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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Texas Senate changes

The Texas Tribune reports that Comptroller-elect Glenn Hegar, also a member of the State Senate, has resigned his seat in anticipation of assuming high office. Governor Rick Perry has called a special election for December 6th, which will likely have to be resolved by a runoff election some point after the 84th Legislative session convenes at the start of next year.

The three candidates for the State Senate district, which stretches from Katy (Hegar’s hometown) to Corpus Christi to the outskirts of Austin (map here), include Gary Gates and Charles Gregory of Fort Bend County as well as State Representatives Lois Kolkhorst (R-Washington County). Needless to say, the huge district will continue to be dominated by its Greater Houston subdivision. No Democrats have, at print time, announced their interest in the district, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that none will run (the last time the district held an election, in 2012, Hegar ran unopposed).

Perhaps the bigger piece of news is some convincing evidence that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), this year’s unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, will in fact resign her senate seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio. I went over most of the odds-and-ends involving this possibility last week, when I emphatically opined against the decision. Selfishly, I think Van de Putte could continue being an asset for Democrats in this state as an articulate and highly-visible leader of the opposition against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in the next session.

The source for this is Robert Miller, a lobbyist in Houston who has a history of breaking these types of stories via Twitter. The tweets were immediately confirmed by former staffers of Van de Putte. Miller, as you may remember, correctly pointed to Wendy Davis running for Governor in August of last year (Back when I thought she would only lose by eight-to-ten points, how naive of me).

With Van de Putte out, another special election would have to be called. The Houston Chronicle has suggested that both State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer and State Representative Jose Menendez, both San Antonio Democrats, would throw their hats in the ring to succeed Van de Putte in heavily gerrymandered (for the Democrats) district. Meanwhile, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), who recently resigned his House seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio, may still end up switching races.

The San Antonio Express-News has a great profile out that discusses the “friction” between Van de Putte and Villarreal. In 1999, Villarreal had succeeded Van de Putte in the State House when she was first elected to the senate, defeated her hand-picked successor in the process. Ever since, the relationship has been tense. Accordingly, the two might have a nasty campaign ahead of them, though I would think Van de Putte (the only statewide Democrat to carry Bexar County) would be heavily favored.

But the optics about candidates and what not can wait until we have more information. Perry and Governor-elect Greg Abbott, when he takes office, are just petty enough to purposefully drag their feet on a special election to ensure the Democrats start the session with one fewer voice, short of the 1/3 needed to block legislation. Although, as I have previously mentioned, the 2/3rds rule is likely doomed anyways.

Off the Kuff has more (regarding Hegar).

San Antonio mayoral update

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As the astute will recall, Julian Castro, the longtime Mayor of San Antonio, left his post over the summer in order to become the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Washington. The San Antonio City Council settled on Ivy Taylor, one of their own, to serve as the interim Mayor until the next regularly scheduled general election in May 2015. One of the reasons for her appointment was that she strongly hinted that she would not run herself next year. This has prompted a wide open field for those interested to take the helm at the country’s seventh biggest city.

If you are left wondering exactly what relevance this has to state politics, the growing list of prospective candidates should clear things up. In addition to a couple of incumbent City Councilmembers, namely Ray Lopez and Ron Nirenberg, names with statewide followings have either already tossed their hats or are thinking intently about the subject.

First up, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), who has been openly running for Mayor since the summer, announced today that he would be resigning his legislative seat shortly in order to fully focus on the election as well as allow Governor Rick Perry to call a special election as early as December. The Texas Tribune has the full story on that.

Not to be outdone, the San Antonio Express-News reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County) is now also seriously considering a mayoral bid. Back in July, when this subject first came up, she unequivocally denied the rumor. “Under no circumstance will I be running for Mayor of San Antonio,” she told the Express-News at the time. Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor who was handed a 19 point loss last Tuesday, appears to have now had a change of heart.

“Recently, many business and community leaders have asked me to play a new role in service to San Antonio, as Mayor,” Van de Putte tweeted. “I am humbled by their confidence and support. At this time, I am enjoying my family and praying for guidance.”

Van de Putte, the only statewide Democrat to carry Bexar County, is immensely popular in her hometown. If she chose to run, the contest would immediately be transformed into her race to lose. And while she wouldn’t necessarily have to resign her State Senate seat for the run, if it became apparent that she would likely be victorious, an expeditious resignation and succeeding special election would probably occur. Expect individuals such as Villarreal to seriously consider switching to the State Senate race in that case.

Now, I think Van de Putte would make a phenomenal Mayor. She would serve the people of San Antonio competently and courageously. But, selfishly, I desperately do not want her to run, and do not want her to leave the Legislature. Van de Putte, as the individual who went head-to-head with Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, would be in a unique position to serve as a bombastic and effective Leader of the Opposition next session. Now that Wendy Davis, Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, will no longer be in the legislature, Van de Putte has the best name recognition of any Democratic State Legislator. If Democrats lose her too, they will be seriously lacking in the brain trust department.

Additionally, if the 2/3rds rule is preserved in any way, shape or form, the Democrats will only be able to use it if they stay completely unified. Van de Putte’s resignation would only leave 10 Democratic Senators, one short of the requisite third. Of course, Patrick will likely do away with this tradition altogether, making this worry a moot point.

Perhaps Van de Putte sees the writing on the wall. Conventional wisdom was that Van de Putte could perhaps run a competitive — even successful — statewide bid in 2018, but the shellacking that Texas Democrats experienced this cycle likely put those aspirations to bed. I’m sure some pundits more crass than myself will make a variation of the “rats jumping off a sinking ship” joke.

Make no mistake, the loss of Van de Putte from the State Senate would be a devastating blow for Democrats in the state; indeed, it would be debilitating for all those Texans not looking forward to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s reign of terror.

Ivy Taylor, Mayor of San Antonio

The San Antonio Express-News reports that a new Mayor of San Antonio has been selected: Ivy Taylor. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the previous Mayor, Julian Castro, was recently confirmed by the US Senate as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. His resignation was contingent upon the selection of his successor, who had to be selected from among the ranks of the City Council.

Thus, the selection of Taylor. She has been on the City Council since 2009, and represents a district on the east end. Taylor made news last autumn when she voted against that City’s non-discrimination ordinance. Taylor, an African-American Democrat, will be the Mayor until May of next year, at which time a new Mayor will be inaugurated following a regularly scheduled Mayoral election. Taylor has already announced that she would not run in that election, which promises to be chock full of fireworks.

Among the candidates are City Councilman Ray Lopez, who challenged Taylor today to become the interim Mayor. Unlike Taylor, Lopez freely admits that he wishes to seek a full term as Mayor. State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County) is also running a two-barreled campaign for Mayor, and is seen by most observers as the obvious frontrunner. The dark horse, also expanded upon by the article linked in the previous sentence, is State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. If Van de Putte loses the general election, which she most likely will, the article speculates that she might find herself transitioning into municipal politics, despite the fact that her Senate seat will still have two more years. Personally, I think she could have more fun as the leader of the loyal opposition within the State Senate if Dan Patrick –the Republican nominee– takes the reigns of office.

Castro, for his part, will take office officially here in the next few days. I have made my points about being skeptical regarding Castro’s new role in Washington DC, and now it is best to just move on. I certainly wish him well in his new endeavor, and hope he can positively affect change within a Federal position of power.

I personally thought that Lopez, who has more experience, would have been the preferable choice for Mayor. I obviously disagree with Taylor on her rationale on LGBT issues, but I think that the greater concern is that she is a divider, and not a uniter. Everyone mentioned in this article is a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, they do not disagree on most issues. But some try to wedge fights and make enemies. In my limited experience following San Antonio politics, I sincerely do not think that Lopez is one of those people.

Of course, at risking the obvious, San Antonio is not Houston. San Antonio, unlike Houston, has a weak-Mayor system, complete with a powerful unappointed City Manager. Accordingly, much of the Mayor’s power is overstated if a casual follower of this blog, one likely stationed in Houston, were to assume this office is similar to its contemporary down Interstate 10.

Texas Leftist has more.

Castro confirmed by the US Senate

The San Antonio Express-News reports that Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, has been confirmed by the US Senate to serve as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The Senate vote was overwhelming, 71-26, and Castro will take office upon his resignation from the Mayorship, which he has held since 2009. I wrote extensively on this topic back in May when President Barack Obama first nominated Castro for the post, and suffice it to say I was not really a fan of the move. But more on this later.

First things first, the obvious question is who will be the next Mayor of San Antonio? The City Charter holds that the Mayor Pro Tem, currently Councilmember Cris Medina, would immediately become Acting Mayor in the case of the Mayor’s death, resignation or removal from office. However, in San Antonio, the Council would then choose a new permanent Mayor from amongst its ranks until the next regularly scheduled election, which is in May 2015. A number of Councilmembers have expressed interest in the appointment, and a couple outside actors –namely State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County)– have also announced their tentative candidacies. I am not very well-versed in any of the inside politics of San Antonio, so I cannot offer any truly educated predictions about what will happen. Just expect fireworks.

Click here to read more!

Villarreal to NOT RUN

The Houston Chronicle reports that State Representative Mike Villarreal, long seen as a possible Democratic candidate for a Statewide post come next year, will not run for anything.

While Villarreal had long ruled out any interest in running for Governor, but had left the door open to other offices at some point in the future. However, today the Representative gave a sharp critique of the Texas Democratic Party’s prospects, believing that they have absolutely no chance of victory in 2014. He’s probably right.

It is no secret that Villarreal, who has represented part of San Antonio in the lower chamber since 1999, wants a higher office. While Villarreal told the Chronicle that he expects Wendy Davis to run for Governor and for her to win, the statement is utterly ridiculous grandstanding on his part when you take into his preceding statements.

Villarreal told the Chronicle that, on the question of  running for higher office in 2014, “the timing is not good for me.” The article then goes on to note that, if he were to run and lose, he would lose his State House seat (including his prestigious Committee Chairmanship).

To be clear, I completely agree with Villarreal that Democrats have no chance next year and I do not blame him for doing what he did. It is his equivocation on the question of the feasibility of a Democratic candidacy that I found somewhat troubling.

In other news, as Off the Kuff notes, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte is inching closer to a campaign for Lieutenant Governor.

Van de Putte open to Statewide run

The Dallas Morning News reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) is open to the idea of running for Lieutenant Governor. Van de Putte shot to international stardom last June during the Wendy Davis filibuster. With only about ten minutes left to go until midnight, Van de Putte asked a parliamentary inquiry: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” It was at this point that the crowd in the gallery went to their feet, started shouting and the rest is history.

Anyways, Van de Putte has now become a favorite candidate of Texas Democrats looking towards the future (specifically, the 2014 election). Van de Putte is an extraordinarily attractive for the Democrats because she is not defending her Senate seat in 2014. Therefore, unlike Wendy Davis, she could run for Statewide office next year, lose and show up for work in Austin like normal at the start of the next Legislative session.

“I’m not ruling it out, but right now I’m holding off on considering it until Wendy decides what she’s going to do,” Van de Putte said. “I’ll wait until then to consider how I can make the state more competitive.”

The article from the Morning News also mentioned four other possible candidates for next year’s Democratic Party: State Representative Rafael Anchia, State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, State Representative Mike Villarreal and State Senator Royce West. However, this is some lazy reporting on the Morning News’ part unless they have some privileged information I am not aware to. Anchia is running for re-election, as is Villarreal.  Senator West is an interesting name to throw into the mix, though that may just be the Dallas bias in the article. Martinez Fischer, on the other hand, is frequently mentioned. I think both would make good candidates.

Either way, all of these candidates will be waiting on Wendy Davis’ big announcement. Davis, for her part, was supposed to make her big decision in the next few days, but delayed such a decision on account of her ailing father. Everything will become clear soon enough.