During a happenstance meeting outside an early polling site on the first day of voting in the 2012 Primary, I said to Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, “I was surprised to see you get that pro-life endorsement when you’ve never even said you’re pro-life” Straus replied with a smirk, “You’re right, I’ve never said that.”
Years later, this conversation still illuminates the skepticism grass roots conservatives across Texas still have toward the oft-maligned “moderate” Speaker of the Texas House: In a State as deeply red as Texas — where even pro-life Democrats are multiplying and trumpeting their bona-fides — why has the Republican Speaker of The House steadfastly refused to publicly acknowledge his personal feelings on one of the most hot-button social issues of the day?
The anti-Strausians continue to trumpet his acceptance of campaign contributions from Planned Parenthood PAC and his past praise of Planned Parenthood, saying “they do so much good on the family planning and the women’s health issues” as sufficient reason to question his pro-life bona-fides.
Supporters claim Straus’ pro-choice peccadillos are ancient history and he deserves credit for being at the helm during Legislative sessions that markedly advanced the pro-life cause in Texas. The anti-Strausians counter those advances were in spite of Straus, and argue that he and his leadership team were working behind the scenes to scuttle legislation. Back and forth they go.
It should be noted that Straus has never recanted his statement, refunded the campaign contribution, or otherwise sough to publicly profess a pro-life worldview. He remains the only person to hold the answers and the only person in a position to quell the debate. Yet he continues to eschew the opportunity to join Ronald Reagan or Mitt Romney as former pro-choice Republicans. So the arguments will likely continue.
Bolstering the skeptics is one switch-hitting pro-life group offering scathing criticisms of Straus in one election cycle — saying he’s “not considered pro-life”, and threatening scorecard downgrades for legislators supporting him — then turning around and endorsing him as the winds change (and strength of incumbency solidifies).
All the while, Straus has offered no public change of heart and those same organizations have released carefully crafted statements in their endorsements saying “Straus ‘articulated to us the same pro-life position on abortion as President Ronald Reagan.'”
The residual skepticism leads one to wonder just how finely that language was parsed. For even the Great Communicator was “for it before he was against it.” But Reagan was against it — eventually. Is Joe Straus?
And what about the other facets of the pro-life cause like end of life issues? Will House members again put their faith in a leader who artfully dodges the tough questions or will they insist on getting a roadmap before they hitch their carts to his horse? Only time will tell.