Grass Roots Starting to Influence State and Local Politics

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, November 3rd, as many of us were settling into our beds preparing to bask in pleasant dreams about the outcome of the General Election, Joe Straus, the Speaker of the Texas House, announced:

“I will continue to lead the Texas House in a fair and respectful way as Speaker, and at this early hour, I’m grateful to have 122 colleagues support me for Speaker, including 76 Republicans and 46 Democrats, and I look forward to visiting with more members in the coming days.”

For many of us newly christened political junkies, this just didn’t go down well with our morning coffee. After all, the voice of the people had only been expressed hours before. You may have asked yourself, “In this climate, how dare a politician take our support, the public’s support, for granted?” And there’s the rub – Straus did not believe that he needed our support. No speaker during the last three decades had needed the support of Texas voters. The pre-election Good ‘Ole Boy network had been at work behind the scenes. And, Speaker Straus thought that 2010/2011 would be business as usual.

In 2008 Judge Sam Sparks overturned the “speaker’s statute”. Until then it was illegal for advocacy groups to spend “anything of value” to influence the election of the speaker.

Because of the “speaker’s statute” the Speaker’s race had never been at the forefront of the average voters’ minds. It is possible that no previous Speaker of the Texas House ever pondered if individual Texans would be supportive, if they were given the opportunity to vote for them. It is likely that past Speakers knew that most Texan’s didn’t know the difference between the Texas House of Representatives and the U.S. House of Representatives, and until now, no Speaker ever lost sleep over voter’s preferences.

Since most new grassroots organizations didn’t mobilize until early 2009, well after the last speaker’s race during the last legislative session, we had not learned yet about the importance of that race. But, boy did we learn a thing or two that spring. We watched the delays on the state house floor, we learned about the calendar committees, and the importance of the committee chairs. The role of the Speaker as the ultimate power broker at the state level became crystal clear. And we thought…well, next time around we will be ready, and we will be heard.

After the completion of the 81st Legislative session in 2009, grassroots groups across the entire state began educating themselves about our state legislative process. We hosted several Citizen Candidate Forums here in the Central Texas. It was our goal to look every candidate in the eye and to ask questions that would help us see behind the stump speech to learn more about each candidate’s guiding principles. After learning about these candidates MANY of you donated to their campaigns, block-walked, phone banked, and stepped out of your comfort zones with your neighbors and friends to promote those who had earned your support.

Even as we worked on our Get Out the Vote campaign in the fall, we regularly discussed our post election action plans. We never forgot the 2009 legislative session, and thought that we should begin thinking about the Republican’s upcoming selection for the Speaker of the House. We reached out to a couple of candidates, a few who were active in the Republican Party in my area, and even a blogger or two to try to get ahead of the Speaker issue. We knew that we ran the risk of addressing this issue too late in the game. We were told, “Wait until after the election.”

So, back to Wednesday morning, November 3rd… We were too late to the game to be able to proactively address the issue with our representatives. But once again, boy have we learned a thing or two. Our thanks go out to Speaker Straus for providing us with another learning opportunity. His tactic, announcing his own coronation via press release at midnight, tells me that the Speaker’s race is now a campaign issue. It will be at the forefront of our minds during our upcoming Citizen Candidate Forums.

The Central Texas 9-12 Project does not endorse candidates and we did not endorse a candidate for the Speaker’s race. We did sign the Letter on Leadership which asked our representatives to vote for a conservative candidate. We also supported the Senate Republican Executive Committee’s (SREC’s) request to caucus to select the next Speaker. We wanted an opportunity for constituents to weigh in on the selection process.

Our organization is primarily represented by Dr. Charles Schwertner (District 20), Larry Gonzales (District 52), Paul Workman (District 47), Mark Strama (District 50), and Jason Isaac (District 45). We will note their votes for the Speaker’s race and we WILL remember. We will judge the new Speaker, whoever he is, by the clear actions he takes to advance liberty and strengthen the State of Texas. But, more importantly, we are in this for the long-term, and we will watch, listen, and learn.