Straus annihilates Turner

The Texas Tribune reports that House Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County) has been re-elected, as expected, to a rare fourth term as speaker. He annihilated his competition, embodied in State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), by unbelievably lopsided margins. The final tally was 127 for the speaker, 19 for Turner (two absences and two vacancies). While Straus, yet again, received the unanimous support of Democrats, there were 76 votes in the Republican column alone for him. This means that, contrary to the misleading claims made by Straus’ detractors, he did not require bipartisan support for his election.

Turner could obviously tell that his quest for the speakership was quixotic at best and delusional at worst as early as November. But unlike the other speaker challenges, which were abandoned before January, Turner soldiered on for very different reasons. He never expected to actually win the gavel (at least I hope not). The entire point of the challenge was to force a record vote for speaker, something that has not been done since the 1970s. Right-wing groups, such as the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans, have pledged to recruit primary challengers for all the Straus loyalists. We’ll see how that works out, but color me skeptical.

Thanks to Empower Texans, we have a roll call of all nineteen of the Turner loyalists. State Representatives Dawnna Dukes (D-Travis County) and Tom Craddick (R-Midland County) were the two absences. While Dukes has intimated that she would have supported Straus, Craddick — a former Speaker who was deposed by Straus in 2009 — is tougher to pin down.

State Representatives Rodney Anderson (R-Dallas County), Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock County), Pat Fallon (R-Denton County), Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County), Mark Keough (R-Montgomery County), Stephanie Klick (R-Tarrant County), Matt Krause (R-Tarrant County), Jeff Leach (R-Collin County), Matt Rinaldi (R-Dallas County), Scott Sanford (R-Collin County), Matt Schaefer (R-Smith County), Matt Shaheen (R-Collin County), David Simpson (R-Gregg County), Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman County), Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County), Tony Tinderholt (R-Tarrant County), Molly White (R-Bell County) and Bill Zedler (R-Tarrant County) all supported Turner.

Interestingly enough, Turner — a native son of the DFW Metroplex — garnered a significant chunk of the delegation from up there, but only one representative from Greater Houston and zero from both the San Antonio and Austin areas, respectively.

The House is still Straus’ fiefdom, that much is no longer up for debate. The question is what type of lower house he will command over the next 140+ days. Texas Monthly just published a lengthy interview with Straus, and I strongly urge you to check it out. Most pressingly, he appeared strangely tepid on Greg Abbott’s prospects as Governor. This led Breitbart Texas to explode and publish a real hit piece against Straus. Trouble in paradise already, evidently.

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House passes Miller compliance

I have no earthly idea why I am spending so much time on this issue, but I seem to be devoting a fair chunk of time to any and all movement going on in the Special Session.

Just three days ago, shortly after the Senate had passed a bill to substitute the mandatory life-without-parole punishment for 17 year-old capital murderers with 40 years (life with parole), I noted that the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee had unanimously passed the legislation.

As I had predicted, the House offered up and passed some amendments to the Senate’s bill. Accordingly, the bill still must return to a Conference Committee. Although I noted that Rep. Bryan Hughes (yes, the same Hughes who led the Christian Conservative for Speaker conundrum) had proposed an alternative bill that would have allowed juries to see and hear mitigating evidence and arguments, and given them the opportunity to place a sentence as light as 25 years. After pressure, the alternate bill was pulled.

The only amendment that got through on the bill, SB 23, actually put the option of life-without-parole back on the table. Simply put, it gave the jury two options: life-without parole or life-with-parole (40 years). Forty years, to be fair, often times is a death sentence, but if one is 17, it usually is not.

Editor’s note: Being incarcerated from ages 17-57 constitutes the effective lifetime imprisonment of the worthwhile years of your life. While most individuals begin winding down their occupations and the like at that time, these individuals would be just getting out of prison with little to no skills or education. 

The amendment was offered up by Matt Schaefer (R-Smith County), although I cannot find a roll call on it. A point of humor, Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, had to offer up an amendment to Rep. Schaefer’s bill that essentially proofread it and corrected the numerous typos therein. For example, Rep. Schaefer used the phrase “capitol felony.” Yikes, and this guy leads our State?

Anyways, the bill ended up passing 110-28. All the dissenters were Democrats, and they included all the usual suspects. It appeared to me that the strongest opponent was Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Harris County). Dutton railed on and on about how the bill is unconstitutional since it still involves both mandatory sentences and life-with-parole. For the record, the Supreme Court case that caused this issue to be risen in the first place, Miller v. Alabama, did not prohibit either of these things. It only prohibited a mandatory sentence of life-without-parole.

While this bill isn’t the best, it still is better than what we have now. Additionally, under current law and precedent (that’s important), this bill is not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is currently moving towards a much more comprehensive view of the protections of the Eighth Amendment (especially pertaining to minors), so this may not be true in a few years.