The Speaker’s race that wasn’t

State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, is a dying breed. A comparably moderate Republican, he runs the chamber based on the consent of its members (a novel concept). Instead of groveling to the whims and caprices of the majority of the majority, like Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)  in Congress, Straus actually gives a voice to all proposals with majority backing. Often times, these are red-meat conservative proposals, like solving the non-existent problems of voter fraud and unsafe abortion clinics, but they have sometimes been realistic and sensible ideas to solve the state’s problem.

Straus, of course, came to power by aligning himself with the Democratic caucus, and has remained in office largely through their toleration. In 2009, after three disastrously controversial sessions under the stewardship of Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), Straus overthrew the incumbent and has been distrusted by the most extreme factions of his party ever since. Some have a pathological hatred of anyone who work with Democrats and some are just anti-Semites (Straus is Jewish), but the main point is that the Tea Party and Straus go like water and oil.

A few names have popped up over the succeeding sessions to challenge Straus, but they have — without exception — dropped out before the actual vote came up. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), who is challenging Straus ahead of the 2015 session, says he will stay in until the bitter end to demand a vote.

However, the evidence is just not there that Turner can mount anything close to a credible campaign. If he gets more than 25 votes, I will legitimately be shocked.

First, let’s do some simple math. There are 150 members, meaning roughly 76 are needed to secure the gavel. We can put the 52 Democrats in as a given for Straus; they’ve supported him before and will be sure to do so again when the only other option is Turner, arguably too cozy with moneyed right-wing interests. Granted, one Democrat, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), has resigned and his seat will not likely be filled by early January. Thus, for the sake of argument, there are 51 Democrats.

Then we can toss in 7 Tea Party-affiliated Representatives from the DFW portion of the state, who recently signed an open letter (Letter 1) stating their support for Straus. They are State Representatives Myra Crownover (R-Denton County), Giovanni Capriglione (R-Tarrant County), James Frank (R-Wichita County), Phil King (R-Parker County), Tan Parker (R-Denton County), Ron Simmons (R-Denton County) and Drew Springer (R-Cooke County). Capriglione, a true Tea Party darling, publicly announced and defended his support for Straus at the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, one of the most infamously anti-Straus organization. It was quite the spectacle. Anyways, that brings the total up to 58.

Today, a further 7 State Representatives and State Representatives-elect publicly backed Straus, in yet another open letter (Letter 2). They are Trent Ashby (R-Angelina County), Cecil Bell (R-Montgomery County), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches County), John Otto (R-Liberty County), Chris Paddie (R-Harrison County), Dade Phelan (R-Jefferson County) and Gary VanDeaver (R-Bowie County). The two open letters, respectively, touted Straus’ conservative credentials (first accessed via Quorum Report, though the letters themselves are open). This now brings the total up to 65.

Straus can be counted upon to vote for himself, as can be some of his closest lieutenants: State Representatives Byron Cook (R-Navarro County), Charlie Geren (R-Tarrant County), Jim Keffer (R-Eastland County) and Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County). That brings us to 70.

Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but if I had to name six more supporters, they would be State Representatives Drew Darby (R-Tom Green), Sarah Davis (R-Harris County), Kyle Kacal (R-Brazos County), J.M. Lozano (R-Kleberg County), J.D. Sheffield (R-Coryell County) and John Zerwas (R-Fort Bent County). They have not made official statements, but I would be very surprised if they voted the other way. Your mileage may vary.

That’s just math, folks. But the good news is that, at the end of the day, Straus will still be in charge for the 84th Legislature. In all likelihood, another faction of six or seven conservative Republicans will rally to Straus’ side tomorrow or the next day, and make my guesses moot. Scott Turner just will not win. Full stop.

I obviously think Straus is more moderate and pragmatic his opponent, but that is not really the reason I am supportive of him. Lest the liberals think he will secretly go along with their agenda, like many on the far-right believe, Straus will put up disastrously extreme pieces of legislation this next session, for the simple reason that they will pass easily in the heavily Republican chamber. But he will do so as a result of the consent of the members, not because of any despotic proclivities or loyalties to outside parties. By that standard alone, he is better than Craddick, Turner or anyone else Michael Quinn Sullivan might prop up next.

Is Joe Straus a liberal?

My friend Paul Burka at Texas Monthly pegs this question, rather facetiously, in response to a recent blog post at Forbes Magazine. Spoiler alert, the answer is a total and resounding NO! The original post, entitled “Meet the Harry Reid of Texas,” is a ludicrous attempt to paint the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), a bona fide Republican, as some type of closet Democrat. It is penned by a gentleman named Patrick Gleason, who (a cursory background search will reveal) is a staffer for Americans for Tax Reform, otherwise known as Grover Norquist’s group.

The post, which Burka notes “has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up,” delineates the pragmatic background of Straus. For those not familiar, he was first elected Speaker in 2009. At that time, a coalition of eleven moderate Republicans banded together with the Democrats to topple the regime of Speaker Tom Craddick. The anger against Craddick was not necessarily based on politics, but on leadership style. Craddick was brash, and railroaded over other Representatives in an attempt to wield absolute power.

Because Straus and his band of allies dealt with Democrats, his underlying loyalty has been suspect by the most extreme Republicans ever since. He has a steadfast dedication to the important issues, such as roads and infrastructure. Meanwhile, he openly calls for the lower house to not focus too intently on controversial, us-versus-them social issues.

For his part, Straus is better than his predecessor, and has always cooperated in good faith with Democrats on many important issues. However, at the end of the day, he is still a Republican. I would still prefer him to be replaced by a Democratic Speaker. And, in what should be most important for the Tea Party, he will –albeit reluctantly– bring up those controversial social issues when pushed by his members and State Leadership.

For example, the Texas House, under Straus’ stewardship, passed a Voter ID act. They also passed “Guns on Campus” last year, though the Senate did not. Ditto with onerous abortion restrictions last summer.

Accordingly, why do these right-wingers loathe Straus so much? For one, his rise to power is disquieting to party orthodoxy. But, in my opinion, it is far more than that. This is about distrust of a pragmatic Texas Republican, one of the last ones left in high office, and his honest effort to run a better State. Not a more conservative State, just a better State.

Burka, for his part, agrees at least one piece of sentiment expressed in the Forbes article; right-wing pipe dreams passed out of a Texas Senate controlled by a Lieutenant Governor named Dan Patrick would almost certainly go nowhere in Straus’ House. The post also referenced State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a vocal Straus ally and one of the few –perhaps the only– openly moderate freshmen GOP Representatives. Villalba predicted that these pipe dreams, such as anti-Common Core bills, would be “put on the back burner” and eventually aged to death on the calendar committee.

In other places on the anti-Straus front, the Speaker has actually garnered some real opposition from among the House’s ranks. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County) has announced a public campaign against the Speaker, though he still appears to be receiving only minimal support from usual suspects. Previous attempts against Sraus’ speakership have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Failed candidacies by both State Representative Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County) and David Simpson (R-Gregg County) were both aborted prior to actual voting.

I still maintain a good amount of respect for Straus, but my opinion is that Burka gives him far too much credit to stand up to the powers to be on contentious topics. It was a lot easier for Straus to be a moderate when his companions were Rick Perry as Governor (pre Presidential campaign) and David Dewhurst as Lieutenant Governor. Next session, in all likelihood, his companions will be Greg Abbott as Governor and Dan Patrick as Lieutenant Governor. Three full steps to the right, maybe more.

Straus folded like a cheap card table last summer when Perry began exacting pressure on him to pass the abortion restrictions. I have little doubt that he will fold once more when the time comes for Abbott to lay out his ambitious right-wing agenda. Just wait. Straus will, thankfully for him, largely placate his right-wing detractors. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it will be because of the dreaded 84th session.

State Senator Creighton

 

In the special election for District 4 of the State Senate, vacated by Tommy Williams, the results are in and it is a decisive victory. State Representative Brandon Creighton (R-Montgomery County) has defeated State Representative Steve Toth (R-Montgomery County). The seat is remarkably conservative, centered around The Woodlands and its surrounding right-wing neighborhoods. As such, in the original preliminary election in May, all four candidates were Republicans. When it comes to special elections in Texas, a blanket primary is used, so Creighton and Toth advanced into tonight’s runoff election. Creighton will serve out the remainder of Williams’ term, which stretches until the end of 2016.

Williams, for his part, had always been far more moderate/pragmatic than his Republican constituents may have been. He fought tirelessly time and time again in recent sessions on behalf of bipartisan legislation, and he was an infamous Dan Patrick-hater. Thus, when he revealed last year that he was resigning the State Senate to take a job at Texas A&M University, most observers assumed the chamber would take a rightward tilt irrespective of who his opponent might be.

At the time of Williams’ resignation, Creighton was in the middle of a bid for Agriculture Commissioner. Interestingly enough, when Creighton announced his candidacy for that post in August (Texpatriate was on hand for the event), Toth was among the dignitaries who supported his candidacy. However, once Williams resigned in October, Creighton switched races. Toth soon followed suit.

While Creighton is not nearly as centrist as his predecessor, he is still leaps and bounds above his opponent. While both are undoubtedly beholden to Tea Party and nativist groups and are significantly more conservative than I am familiar therewith. But only Toth is mean hearted about it.

Creighton, at heart, is a representative for his constituents. His support, at its core, is grass roots and reflects the same neighborhoods he grew up in and has worked in. I saw this last year when he held his kickoff event for the Agriculture Commissioner run. Myriad local officials were present, and the cheerleaders from the local high school even held an event. He is a man of the people, albeit very conservative people. Toth, on the other hand, is just all about ideology. His support is astroturfed.

This was the same sentiment expressed by State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a freshman who is quickly becoming the most renowned moderate Republican in the Legislature.

No surprise that Empower Texans endorsed against the Reagan Republican, Brandon Creighton, who is winning by 72% tonight,” Villalba wrote on his Facebook. ” Empower Texans and it’s leadership have no credibility whatsoever.”

The GOP platform

The San Antonio Express-News reports that the Texas Republican Convention has officially closed, and endorsed a new platform that is even scarier than the one before it. While the previous stone-age planks in the platform, such as the repudiation of critical thinking or urging the rescinding of no-fault divorce laws, were approved by the body once more, language involving immigration became even harsher. Support of a guest-worker program was nixed. Additionally, the platform called for a blanket prohibition on sanctuary cities and the end of the Texas Dream act, which allows for in-State tuition to be given to undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children.

Furthermore, a plank was inserted that endorsed “gay conversion therapy,” a universally condemned and cruel practice to change the sexual orientation of gay people. In a small semblance of humanity, the language referring to homosexuality as a condition that “tears at the fabric of society” was axed. However, given the recent flareup about the Log Cabin Republicans being denied representation at the convention, this is truly not all that surprising. Within the small subsection of the community who frequents the Texas GOP convention, a nearly unanimous disgust with LGBT people is not all that surprising.

Click here to read about the full debate on immigration!

In re School Marshals

A few weeks ago, the Texas House voted by rather large margins to allow rural school districts without their own police forces to designate employees as “School Marshals,” allowed to bring their concealed weapons into schools. On Wednesday, the Texas Tribune reported that that bill, HB1009 (proposed by Jason Villalba [R-Dallas]), had also passed the Senate without amendment and is on Rick Perry’s desk.

The bill, which passed 28-3 (journal not available now), would have those rural school districts without their own police forces (so it is 100% irrelevant to Houston) choose an employee to undergo 80 hours of training. In comparison, a CHL requires just 8 hours. This rigorous evaluation would include sanity and other mental health evaluations. Only at that time would the employee become a deputized School Marshal authorized to bring deadly weapons to a school.

Living up in Massachusetts has given me to opportunity to meet some remedial individuals on the left who actually believe the world would be a better place if nobody had a gun. I have a problem with that. What I do not have a problem with, certainly, is well-trained, sane individuals having guns to protect the general population. Education and regulations are certainly good ways to prevent mass tragedies, but sometimes, deadly force is the only way to stop an ongoing one.

Gun Day

The Texas House passed some major legislation yesterday. Among these are the good, the fair, the bad, the horrible and the blatantly unconstitutional and possibly treasonous. Okay, maybe not treasonous, at least not yet, but all the other superfluous adjectives. All of these passed by voice vote, so I am not sure what the crossover was on any of these bills, but let me go down the line on them real quick.

First up, the infamous “Campus Carry,” or as I call it, “Guns on Campus.” It sounds meaner. Anyways, it was among the bills that passed, and you can read what it does here. The only differences from the Committee version was that this bill has incorporated a substantial amendment that essentially adds Hegar’s bill from the Senate as a rider (Guns in Cars), as well as changes private schools from “opt-out” to “opt-in.” The “opt-out” that applies to both Public and Private would have to occur every year. Finally, “bio-harzard” zones would be exempt, so Medical Schools (Craig Eiland [D-Galveston] offered up this amendment with regard to UTMB).

Next, the “School Marshall” program. HB 1009, proposed by Jason Villalba (R-Dallas). The bill would essentially create anonymous, well-trained individuals with handguns whose responsibility it would be to protect some school districts, much like the current Air Marshall Program. Officers would require 80 hours of training (in comparison, the CHL is 8). I really like this bill, as I have no problem with letting trained, competent individuals posses deadly weapons.

Next, HB864, proposed by Donna Campbell (R-Bexar). The bill reduces the training time for a CHL from 8 to 6 hours. The problem with this bill is that it keeps loosening our already ultra-soft laws in regard to gun licensing. The point of these tests is that it keeps the psychos away from the deadly force. If you keep reducing requirements, you make that failsafe less and less likely.

HB 485, by Sarah Davis (R-Harris), my Rep, was also passed. The bill would sharply reduce the fee for a CHL to $25, for honorably discharged members of the armed forces or reserve peace officers. Again, I have no problem with this, because honorable discharges and peace officers are usually the type of levelheaded people who can handle a gun. The only drawback is it would decreased the amount of revenue the State raises.

Then, there is the Toth bill. Steve Toth (R-Montgomery)’s bill passed, which “nullifies” federal gun regulations, and a bill by Brandon Creighton (R-Montgomery) that punishes federal officials who try to enforce federal laws. Here’s the problem, the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected “nullification” multiple times (most recently in 1958, Cooper v. Aaron). And arrested a federal official for enforcing federal law might just be a tad bit illegal. As Gene Wu said, it’s called the Supremacy Clause. For a faction of politicians who claim to be such mighty “constitutionalists,” this seems to run pretty counter to their big message

The Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle have more.