AUSTIN, Texas — Four short days before the newly sworn Texas State Representatives will cast their votes for Speaker of the House, 45 Democrats have joined 73 of their Republican colleagues in openly cheering for the re-election of current Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
As Breitbart Texas reported, Straus has faced ongoing criticism from grassroots activists who believe he has failed to advance a sufficiently conservative agenda, perhaps most notably on pro-life issues. Rep. Scott Turner (R-Rockwall) announced that he intended to challenge Straus, and has earned endorsements from multiple county Republican executive committees and tea party organizations, but was viewed by most as a long shot candidate.
That long shot became even more distant last November, when a series of carefully coordinated letters spaced every few days apart over a few weeks were sent to reporters, including Breitbart Texas. These letters contained endorsements for Straus from other State Representatives, phrased in remarkably similar language: the Representatives declare themselves “conservative Members of the Texas House” who are “proud to support the re-election of Speaker Joe Straus,” who they claim “will be decisively re-elected because he encourages members to vote in their districts’ best interests and because he is a fair, principled leader.” (Our previous Breitbart Texas report compared the letters to the plot of the movie, The Manchurian Candidate.)
So far, a total of 73 Representatives have endorsed Straus. And now, less than a week before the election, 45 Democrats have picked up their rhetorical pom poms to cheer for Straus’ re-election.
In a letter released on Friday, the Democrats write, “[b]ecause Speaker Joe Straus has repeatedly ensured a fair process and insists that members represent the interests of their constituents, we proudly support Speaker Joe Straus for another term as Speaker in the 84th Regular Session.” The letter also criticizes the partisanship that creates a “divided and paralyzed Congress,” adding “[w]e believe that Speaker Straus has a proven record of promoting bipartisanship whenever possible, and that through his fair leadership the sanctity of each member representing his or her district’s interests will be preserved.”
The real question is why was this letter sent? Straus did not need the votes. Many assumed that he would get the vast majority, if not all, of the votes from the Democrat Members. As the minority party, they do not have the numbers to elect one of their own as Speaker, but a number of them have admitted that they prefer Straus, who they view as more moderate, over his predecessor, Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) or another conservative challenger.
For these Democrats to step forward now, and expressly state that they are supporting Straus because of “bipartisanship,” is all but admitting that what Straus’ critics claim is true: that he allows the Democrats more influence and power over the legislative process and the language of bills than they would normally have given their minority party status. In this light, the Democrats’ letter can be viewed as a show of power by Straus and his allies, showing that they have a seemingly invincible number of votes such that there is no need to even pretend to make any efforts to appease the anger of the conservative grassroots.
At the national level, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was able to fend off challengers and secure his re-election on the first ballot, but he did not engage in activities that could be construed as taunting the conservative grassroots, and none of his challengers stepped forward until the last few days before the vote. Straus remains, in the eyes of all but the most optimistic of Turner’s supporters, the likely winner of Tuesday’s vote, but nothing is guaranteed until the Representatives are sworn in for the new Session and actually cast their votes.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.