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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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.

Filing bills for the 84th

The Texas Tribune reports that bill filings have begun for next year’s session of the State Legislature. When all was said and done, about 350 proposed laws and constitutional amendments were proposed today. Oddly enough, all this commotion conspicuously occurred amid the silence of Governor-elect Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County). Most of the loudest initiatives came from Democrats and Tea Party Republicans, with both leadership and centrists mostly ducking away from the limelight.

For whatever reason, the Tribune as well as the Associated Press have been harping about a new proposed ban on texting-while-driving. The usual suspects, including former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), have been pushing the measure once again, cautiously optimistic that the new Governor would consider the idea; a far cry from Governor Rick Perry, who infamously vetoed the bipartisan measure in 2011. However, Abbott noted in the course of the campaign that he too would likely veto a measure. Accordingly, it’s a dumb point to focus upon.

Most notable were three major Tea Party aspirations, all of which very well may get a vote in this upcoming session. First, three concurrent pieces of legislation (HB 106 by State Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van Zandt County); HB 164 by State Representative James White (R-Tyler County) and; HB 195 by State Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County)) were all introduced that would have the effect of ushering in “open carry” in Texas, meaning that all CHL holders could openly show off their deadly weapons in any location its hidden counterpart would be welcome. Abbott has implied he would sign such a law.

Second, Stickland also introduced HB 209, which would do away with the Texas Dream Act, the bipartisan policy nearly unanimously passed at the start of Perry’s tenure that allows undocumented students brought into this country in their infancy to attend UT and other public universities at the “in-state” rate. Abbott would also sign this proposal.

Third, State Representative Jim Murphy (R-Harris County) introduced HB 193 while State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County) introduced SB 105. The bills would repeal Texas’ unpopular franchise tax, the closest thing to taxes on corporate profits in the state.

That’s more or less what’s important, but I included a list below of the other assorted bills that piqued my interest one way or another:

  • HB41 by State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County) would raise the minimum wage to about $10, while HB 174 would do the same for state contractors.
  • HB 53 by State Representative Ruth McClendon (D-Bexar County) would raise the age at which offenders are tried as an adult from 17 to 18, all other things being equal.
  • HB 68 by State Representative Robert Alonzo (D-Dallas County) would allow for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
  • HB 70 by State Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso County) would provide for penalties for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in school districts.
  • HB 71 by Gonzalez would create a “Romeo & Juliet exception” for same-sex partners.
  • HB 76 by State Representative Ceila Israel (D-Travis County) would allow for online voter registration.
  • HB 78 by Gonzalez would provide for comprehensive sexual education in schools.
  • HB 81 by State Representative Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County) as well as HB 170 by State Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Harris County) would regulate e-cigarettes throughout the state, as well as prohibit their sale to minors.
  • HB 89 by Gonzalez would regulate tuition at public universities.
  • HB 91 by Flynn would create a legal marketplace for the sale of raw milk.
  • HB 92 by White would legalize possession of the “Bowie knife,” among other changes to the state’s knife laws.
  • HB 93, HB 107 and HB 110 by White would greatly reform and generally liberalize laws pertaining to truancy. Specifically, the fine would be reduced from $500 to $20, among other provisions.
  • HB 97 by Guillen as well as HB 189 by State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) would end the statute of limitations on sexual assault.
  • HB 108 by Guillen would retain the right of lottery winners to be anonymous.
  • HB 111 by Fischer would allow for voters to register to vote on election day.
  • HB 113 by State Representative Allen Fletcher (R-Harris County) would criminalize aborting a fetus based on its gender.
  • HB 116 by Fischer would expand Medicaid in Texas.
  • HB 124 by Fischer would expand free, universal Pre-Kindergarten throughout the state.
  • HB 130 by State Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas County), as well as other pertinent joint resolutions, would legalize gay marriage in Texas.
  • HB 135 by Flynn would require High School students to take a civics class on the US Constitution.
  • HB 138 by Flynn would require the 10 Commandments be posted in schools, in clear defiance of the Supreme Court.
  • HB 142 by Stickland would prohibit the use of red light cameras for traffic citations.
  • HB 147 by State Representative Jose Menendez (D-Bexar County) would require merchants to receive photo identification for major purchases involving credit cards.
  • HB 150 by Flynn would nix day light saving’s time in Texas.
  • HB 161 by State Representative Lyle Larson (R-Bexar County) would allow prisons to house inmates in tents.
  • HB 176 by State Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lee County) would somehow “allow” the state to not follow Federal laws involving guns that they did not fancy. The ignorance here is astounding.
  • HB 204 by State Representative Jeff Leach (R-Collin County) would shorten summer break for public schools by about two weeks.
  • HB 213 by State Representative Angie Button (R-Dallas County) would require ex-legislators to wait four years before lobbying under the dome.
  • HB 215 by State Representative Patricia Harless (R-Harris County) would do away with the fees for fishing licenses when it came to fishermen 65 years and older.
  • HB 216 by White would lower the minimum wage for a concealed handgun license from 21 to 18.
  • HJR 31 by Gonzalez would require the Attorney General to be an attorney.
  • HJR 37 by Larson would require legislators to resign from office before running for something else.
  • HJR 38 by Larson would impose term limits on state offices.
  • SB 54 by State Senator Jane Nelson (R-Denton County) would drug test welfare recipients.
  • SB 76 by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Harris County) would prohibit insurance discrimination on the part of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • SB 81 by Ellis would create a commission to further research wrongful convictions, particularly for capital offenses.
  • SB 82 by Ellis would greatly expand the availability of probation for drug-related offenses.
  • SB 86 by Ellis would allow for no-excuse absentee voting.
  • SB 135 by State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) would reform grand jury systems by transitioning from “pick-a-pal” systems in which the grand jurors are chosen by an intermediary to one in which the District Judge directly selects the participants.
  • SB 139 by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County) would end diversions from the State Highway Fund to the Department of Public Safety, among other recipients.
  • SB 141 by State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Harris County) would increase voter education for high school seniors.
  • SB 148 by State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County) would repeal the unconstitutional ban on “homosexual conduct.”
  • SB 150 by State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) would appropriate about $3 Billion for university construction around the state.
  • SB 158 by State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas County) would grant funds for local police departments to purchase body cameras, then require officers wear them throughout their interactions with the public.
  • SB 173 by State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) would deem synthetic marijuana a “controlled substance.”
  • SJR 10 by State Senator Donna Campbell (R-Comal County) would invalidate municipality’s non-discrimination ordinances.

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.

Abbott opposes texting ban

The Associated Press reports (the Corpus Christi Caller-Times had it first, but it is paywalled) that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Governor, would veto a proposed ban on texting-while-driving. As many will recall, Governor Rick Perry vetoed such a bill in 2011, and in 2013 the bill languished in the Legislature and never made it to his desk. Perry claimed that educational campaigns were preferable to changing the law and that it amounted to governmental micromanaging of one’s life. Indeed, Abbott has taken up the same point of view.

In 2011, both Houses of the Legislature passed the bill –which would have made it a moving violation citation (Class C misdemeanor) to send ANY type of communication from your cell phone while it is in motion, including not only texting, but email, messaging and any type of general internet usage– by supermajorities, veto-proof margins. However, because the Legislature adjourned before Perry could offer a final adjudication on the matter, his veto could not be overridden. The bill was heralded in the Legislature, of all people, by State Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), a firebrand Republican who once served as Speaker of the House. He introduced the bill in 2013, where it was passed by a supermajority, though no vote was ever taken in the Senate.

Click here to read more about future prospects!

Lieutenant Governor Patrick?

Let us assume that Dan Patrick wins the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Further, let us assume that –no matter what the Washington Post may say–  Patrick wins the general election. What, then, will become of our Texas? Liberals are preaching about a tentative apocalypse that may occur if Patrick takes the dais at the Senate. Tea Partiers are giddy at the prospect of having one of their own in office.

This leads us to examine just what would, in fact, happen if (when) Patrick is inaugurated into office at the commencement of the 84th Legislature in January 2015. An article in the San Antonio Express-News begins to answer that question, but stops shy of the pronouncement I will go on to say. Simply put, the article notes the continuing hostility between Patrick and many of the Republican members of the State Senate. In my opinion, the article focuses too much on the prospect of what the Senate majority would do if State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), the Democratic nominee, is elected, given how quixotic that proposition could be. Instead, I would like to focus on how the Senate majority may react to the –far more likely– result of Dan Patrick being elected Lieutenant Governor.

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The state of the races

The Dallas Morning News reports that Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County) is still, in fact, pondering a run for Lieutenant Governor. The Morning News as well as the Tribune directly interview the Senator, and he is not shy about his ambition towards the state’s ostensibly second-highest office. Senator Patrick stated, ““That’s why I would run. It has nothing to do with David Dewhurst.” Even though the Morning News piece featured some hurtful comments referring to Houston as “choke city” (stupid [expletive deleted] Dallasites), it highlighted that Patrick will still be a factor in the race for Lieutenant Governor. It appears as though the floodgates have truly been opened by Combs’ announcement, as well. Accordingly, I would like to go over where each race stands as of now.

Governor
Perry, of course, is the main topic here. He would certainly be in a favorable position towards the next primary, if he runs. Abbott is next on everyone’s mind. Though the Governor himself has sworn the two would not run against each other, the Attorney General may throw his hat in the ring anyway.

Aside from the aforementioned couple, Tom Pauken,  former Texas Workforce Commissioner and TXGOP Chairman as well as prominent secessionist Larry SECEDE Kilgore have officially entered the race, with or without Perry.

Lieutenant Governor
Dewhurst is running for re-election, with Land Commissioner Jerry Paterson and  Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples openly running against him. This has all been happening for awhile. The big question now is if Senator Patrick will enter the race, seeing as that Comptroller Susan Combs will not be.

Attorney General
Abbott presumably would run for re-election if he does not challenge Perry. If he does run for Governor, though, the AG’s seat would become open. Susan Reed, the hard hitting Bexar County DA, is the only name I have heard for this seat.

Land Commissioner
Jerry Patterson’s seat is, almost like a little prince’s birthright, already been bequeathed to George P. Bush. The fourth generation politician in the family is running for this seat with national backing.

Agriculture Commissioner
Todd Staples’ seat will be open, and I have heard nothing of it. Anyone? Bueller??

Comptroller
As I stated yesterday, Senator Glenn Hegar and former County Party Chairwoman Debra Medina are already in the fray, while State Senator Tommy Williams and State Representative Harvey Hilderbrand are openly discussing the idea. Former representative Raul Torres and former Speaker Tom Craddick (I kid you not, from the Morning News) are also listed among the more dark house candidates.

Democrats
As I said yesterday, no Democrat who holds any public office has declared for a statewide thus far. With special, young candidates like Julian Castro and Wendy Davis not running, the Democratic lineup this year is just like the Astros’–it just doesn’t matter.

BOR has more. Also, we at Texpatriate are now on our own website. Though the old URL still redirects here.