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.

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Predictions and hopes

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I am not much for predictions. Well, to be fair, I used to predict things all the time, but I was notoriously wrong too many times to count. Accordingly, in an effort to save face, I will  not field my own electoral predictions, which are only slightly less reliable than the Tribune polls.

Rather, I want to note what I am looking for and what I am hoping for; admittedly, they are nearly mutual exclusive categories. Within those categories, I would like to look most specifically at both the Republican & Democratic primaries, as well as both Statewide races and those in Harris County. Within these four categories, there are quite a few overlapping key points, however.

1. HOW BIG IS THE STUPID VOTE?

This is one for the Democratic primary. I am using the official academic term, of course, to describe these so-called stupid voters. They are the voters who will cast their lots for Kesha Rogers (US Senate), Lloyd Wayne Oliver (District Attorney) and Lori Gray (115th District Court), in that order. Albeit, plenty of otherwise unintelligent voters may coincidentally vote for the non-egregious candidates, but there is no way to discern them from Adam.

Click here to read all my other points!

Civil Affairs: Primaries

CIVIL AFFAIRS

In mid-January, State Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) took the stage at a local meeting of the Lubbock Rotary Club, where he criticized the “Race to the Right” in Republican primaries, where candidates try to appeal to an increasingly extreme conservative voter base by outdoing one another’s political positions. Duncan, who is not up for re-election this year, took the opportunity to criticize many of his colleagues for what he felt was an insane example of political posturing.

“We have dumbed down our elections,” Duncan said in comments first reported by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “It’s a race to say who’s the most conservative.”

Duncan, mind you, is no rogue liberal holdover in the Republican Party. In past legislative sessions, he served as the president pro tempore of the chamber and currently serves as the chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee. In fact, it was Duncan who served as speaker of the body when Wendy Davis famously filibustered last June.

PLEASE SEE THE FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY TEXAN!

Big money goes after Straus

The Associated Press reports that a new right-wing PAC, Accountability First, is targeting both House Speaker Joe Straus and allies in upcoming Republican primaries, in a rather transparent attempt to make the Texas House an even more right-wing chamber. Specifically, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Navarro County) and Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland County), moderates and Straus allies, have seen their respective primary opponents be heavily funded by this PAC.

The PAC is largely underwritten by Wallace Hall, the embattled UT Regent on an alleged witch hunt against UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Hall is, of course, currently being investigated by the Legislature for abuse of office and possible impeachment. Also a heavy benefactor to the interest group is Jeff Sandefer, a longtime Perry adviser. Sandefer is probably best known for heralding many of the more-controversial education reforms in the right-wing’s playbook. Specifically, some of the aversions cast upon him are his alleged desire to turn schools such as the University of Texas into more of a technical/vocational institute.

Click here to read more!

Lege udpate 5/14

Final Tallies
As I mentioned last night, both the Campaign Disclosure bill and the Michael Morton bill were one step away from being sent to Perry. Well, at end of business tonight, they have both passed roll call votes and been sent to Perry’s desk. The Governor will most likely veto the former and sign the later.

The Disclosure bill passed 95-52, just shy of overriding capability. The only opposition came from far-right Republicans. Debbie Riddle was the only Houstonian I could find opposing the measure. Meanwhile, the Michael Morton Act continued its support in unanimity, succeeding 147-0. If Perry signs it, it will take effect immediately.

TRC lives another day
The Texas Railroad Commission will not be reformed in any way, according to the Tribune. After the Senate passed an ambitious bill that did a lot of good, including stricter regulations for the Commissioners (as well as name change for the organization), the legislation was greeted as dead on arrival in the lower chamber by Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer (R-Eastland).

Guns on Campus probably a reality
The so-called “Campus Carry” or “Guns-on-Campus” bill looks like it will be a reality after all. Facing the threat of an ambitious piece of legislation mandating the practice for all institutions of higher learning to be jammed through the Special Session, Senator Whitmire folded and allowed the less ambitious HB972 to be voted out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

The Committee voted 5-2, with all four Republicans joining Senator Juan Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo) in supporting the measure. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) were the only two opposed. This bill, unlike one the Senate previously shot down, allows public universities to opt-out if they want to. So, as I have said before, this would create Guns on Campus for A&M and Tech, but not UT, UH or TSU.

The Texas Tribune has the full story on this.

Goodbye, Railroads?

The Chronicle (behind that asinine paywall; try The Dallas Morning News) is reporting the legislature discussing something that should have been done a long time ago. The debate thing morning is over whether or not to rename the Texas Railroad Commission to the Texas Energy Commission. 

A little history: the Railroad Commission was started in 1891 by Governor Hogg, back when railroads were the biggest name in town. Gradually, throughout the 1910s, the regulatory body, one of the first in Texas, was given jurisdiction over all transportation and (for some reason) oil & gas. In the 1930s, the oil boom hit. Ironically, the growth of oil was one of the main reasons for the rise of the automobile and the decline of the train, solidifying the change of what the Railroad Commission was actually doing.

From the 1930s until the formation of OPEC in 1973, the Texas Railroad Commission essentially was the body that set the world price of oil. Arguably, OPEC was inspired by the the Texas Railroad Commission. Since the 1970s, this body has still been a major player in US energy policy. Additionally, since the early 1980s, the commission hasn’t even had jurisdiction over railroads or other transportation.

That brings us to today. The Legislature wants people to be reminded the Railroad Commission isn’t actually about railroads. The Morning News quotes Jim Keffer (R-Eastland), the Chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, in support of the law. However, it quotes a lot of powerful people on both sides (Tom Craddick and Gene Wu) who are deeply opposed to it. Their opinion, which I do share, is that anyone who has been in the oil and gas business for more than a week already knows what the Texas Railroad Commission is. It isn’t that complicated.

Keffer and his friends wish to slip an amendment into Railroad Commission reauthorization bill to officially rename the agency. I’m not quite sure why it is getting so much media today.