2015 Speaker’s race

The Austin American-Statesman reports that State Representative Scott Turner, a Republican freshman from the Dallas area, has filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Turner will challenge Joe Straus, the ostensibly moderate Republican speaker, who has held office since 2009 and will (we assume) be seeking a fourth term as Speaker next year. Turner is also noteworthy as one of just a handful of African-American Republican officeholders in this State, as well as a former NFL Player (he played for the Redskins, Chargers and Broncos, from 1995 to 2003).

“I am excited to announce I have just filed to run for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for the 84th Legislative Session. God bless Texas,” Turner wrote in a Facebook post. Turner, unlike some other controversial members, is not especially known for overly firebrand conservatism and confrontational style (like, for example, Van Taylor). Still, he is an unapologetic member of the Tea Party and will surely be seeking to defeat Straus from the right.

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A basic recap of Legislative retirements

The Texas Tribune reports that yet another longtime Republcan State Representative, Bill Callegari of Katy, will not seek re-election in 2014. Callegari, who has been in office since 2001, is not by any means one of the most moderate of Representatives, though he is still far more pragmatic than most members of the Tea Party caucus.

Among the other retirements from the lower chamber among the Republican caucus are technocrats, pragmatists and longtime representatives. These include Harvey Hilderbran (who is running for Comptroller), Tyron Lewis, Rob Orr and Jim Pitts, among other names. Further Republicans, not necessarily more moderate, such as Dan Branch, Stefani Carter and Van Taylor, are forgoing re-election to the House in order to run for higher office.

Among Democrats, Craig Eiland is probably the only Democrat retiring whose district has been put in jeopardy (this is assisted by the fact that the Democrats, holding a pitiful 55 seats, have already been reduced to the studs. Eiland’s district, consisting of most of Galveston, has eyed a few hopeful Democrats, including District Judge Susan Criss & former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski.

From what I understand, about half the Legislature has announced intention to run for re-election, with another big share of the lower house still assumed to do so.

A larger share of the State House’s Republican caucus that is filled with far-right reactionaries is bound to be a brutal result for the Democrats. The most odious quality of this increased polarization is that it is not easily fixed. Jim Pitts’ successor, for example, will most likely be a Tea Party favorite out of Waxahachie. His constituents in Waxahachie will not be inclined to dump a Tea Party representative any time soon, because for the forseeable future, Republican primaries in Ellis County will be tantamount to election.

Another issue with all these retirements is that Joe Straus’ days as Speaker may be numbered. Paul Burka first prophesied this conclusion about a month ago, well before the cards of retirement started falling.

51 current Republicans were elected in the post-Tea Party era (2010 or 2012). This is added to the six currently retiring Representatives who did not take office in one of those years. After that point, only 19 of the 44 remaining Republicans are needed to oust Straus. The math does not look good for him if an organized opposition effort actually comes to pass.

Triple overtime

In the afternoon today, both the House and the Senate gaveled in for 83(3), the Third Special Session. It will run for thirty days, until August 28th. The House quickly created a Select Committee on Transportation, consisting of seven members including Senfronia Thompson, then adjourned until next Monday, August 5th. The Senate, meanwhile, passed an identical measure, SJR1, in the Finance Committee 10-1. The lone dissenting vote was that of Dan Patrick, who still opposed the Conference Committee’s solution of replacing a hard-floor with a LBB recommendation. The Senate also finally passed the bill, then gaveled out.

Now, at this point, only Transportation funding is on the call of the session. But we all know that a single-issue Special Session can fall apart within a couple of days. Among the issues some want Perry to add to 83(3)’s call are TRBs for Campus Construction, as well as “Guns on Campus.”

First, the Texas Tribune reports that members of both houses of the Legislature, from both parties, are pushing for tuition revenue bonds for campus –specifically the campus of UT-Austin– construction. Among those in favor of such a measure are Rep. Donna Howard (D-Travis County), Sen. Judith Zaffrini (D-Bexar County), Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Potter County), Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Travis County) and Rep, John Raney (R-Brazos County). Among those opposed to such action are the usually cupcake cadets, lead by Van Taylor.

Since it is a new session, the exact nature of the bill of this issue will most likely differ from previous versions. That being said, the measure is somewhat common sense, backed by at least 69 members of the House. In the past, Perry has been open about this issue, telling the Tribune, “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call.”

Next, the Houston Chronicle reports that Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Hood County) is leading the charge to get Governor Perry to add “Guns on Campus,” already known as “Campus Carry” to the call. As loyal readers will recall, I was jumping for joy when this horrible bill died during the regular session. And the Editorial Board member who attends the University of Texas was really, really happy.

Like Perry said, these issues are things that will be dealt with at the conclusion of the transportation issue. I’m still trying to figure out the roll call on SJR1 in the Senate. The true test will now be in the House, which now stands idle until Monday.