For Texas GOP, the special session may be The Most Dangerous Game

 

Good day Austin:

It turns out that the Texas Disposal System’s Exotic Game Ranch in Creedmoor is really quite lovely and very cool.

Not at all what I expected at a landfill on the outskirts of Travis County.

But, as I drove out to the Travis County Republican Party’s Summer Bash, I had an uneasy feeling.

It’s not just that Texas Republicans like their guns, like to shoot and kill things, like to eat the things they kill and probably have a taste for forbidden meats.

And, I mean, would anyone really notice if there were one or two fewer aoudads or barasignhas roaming the landfill after the Republicans came and went?

(From an inventory of animals at the TDS Exotic Game Ranch in Creedmoor)

What really unsettled me was the mounting Republican-on-Republican acrimony leading up to the opening of today’s special session.

After witnessing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick going after House Speaker Joe Straus last week and again yesterday, I worried things were headed in an ominous direction.

From my story today with Chuck Lindell:

In back-to-back appearances Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held what amounted to a pep rally for the special session that begins Tuesday, with the governor calling for a running public count of who is with or against his 20-item agenda, and Patrick warning House Speaker Joe Straus not to get in the way.

“I’m going to be establishing a list,” Abbott said in a midday question-and-answer event on the session at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank where many of the governor’s priorities are born and raised.

“We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out,” Abbott said. “Who is for this. Who is against this. Who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.”

Patrick was more direct and personal, identifying Straus as the odd man out in a special session that he portrayed as a kind of ideological buddy movie in which he and the governor were entirely in tune, and Straus was discordantly out of sync.

At one point, Patrick warned of Straus, “If he personally attacks the governor, I will be his wingman.”

There was a time — before the regular session — when it seemed that Abbott might have more reason to be wary of Patrick, who competes with Abbott for the hearts of the party’s conservative base, than Straus, who doesn’t.

But Patrick began the year with a news conference saying he would never run against Abbott, and he has been torquing up for the special session by presenting himself as the governor’s ally and alter ego — Robin to his Batman, Starsky to his Hutch — with Straus as a threat to Texas Republicans’ conservative agenda.

“I’m a 20-for-20 guy,” Patrick told a receptive audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation policy orientation blocks from the Capitol, where the House and Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“The speaker’s a nice guy, good guy, but he’s opposite on the issues than Gov. Abbott and I,” Patrick said.

“I don’t think it’s helpful or professional for the speaker, especially since he’s in the same party, to call the governor’s special session manure,” Patrick said.

“He is a Republican the last time I checked,” Patrick said, to some loud coughing from his conservative audience, “and so I don’t want this to be a battle among us. But I don’t want to let anyone take on Greg Abbott when he’s trying to do the will of the people and say it’s a bunch of horse manure. Greg Abbott’s priorities are my priorities, are the Senate’s priorities, are the people’s priorities.”

The “manure” reference comes from a joke Straus told to open his remarks in June before the Texas Association of School Boards in San Antonio. In the anecdote, a boy is all excited by a room full of manure.

Why? “The boy said, ‘With all this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere.’” Straus said. “So, I’m going to take the optimistic approach to the special session and keep looking for that pony.”

Pony manure?

What about some blue wildebeest pies?

My mind turned to the classic short story and film, The Most Dangerous Game.

 

Evil Russian game hunter, Count Zoroff traps unsuspecting shipwreck survivors on his remote island. Bored with hunting animals, the bloodthirsty count decides his new sport is hunting humans. Upon meeting shipwreck survivors Robert Rainsford and Eve Trowbridge, he decides they shall be the next prey.

 

 

 

 

What if, say, Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan and a few of his boys caught Straus on his way out of the Capitol to his car, threw him in a sack and hauled him out to Creedmoor only to be revealed to the BBQ-sated (280 plates, $30,000 net for the county party), cash-bar crowd at the TCRP event just as they had been driven to a frenzy by Patrick’s anti-Straus rhetoric, and then given Straus a half hour head start before hunting him on the grounds of the Exotic Game Ranch like a fennec fox?

I arrived about two hours into the event, so I missed Patrick’s remarks. But from what I was told, they were a passionate call to principle but eschewed any direct Straus-bashing.

In fact, when I arrived, James Dickey, the former TCRP chair and recently elected new chairman of the Texas Republican Party was speaking, and offering some words of GOP reconciliation vis a vis the speaker.

Dickey was talking about the challenge of maintaining party unity, and what holds Texas Republicans together.

We already have a shared common goal.

We have a platform.

Some people give us grief because it has 260 items.

So, first of all, there are over 6,000 bills filed so 260 is not that big a deal. It’s not.

If there are 260, there are five or ten that any single elected official should have no problem going to the matt for, and they get to pick those. We believe in that. That’s the kind of party we are.

I met with the speaker of the House a couple of weeks ago. he referred to the letter I’d sent to him and to the lieutenant governor.

 

Dickey:

(James Dickey with his spirit animal, the blackbuck antelope. “He sticks his neck out,” explains Dickey’s wife of the choice.)

The governor has said that of the 20 items he asked for, ten are going to be right out of our  platform, and the majority of those items are mom and apple pie: Don’t let people get annexed without a vote. Don’t spend taxpayer money, taxpayer money, Republican taxpayer money to collect union dues that then get spent 99 percent for Democrats.

Property tax relief.

Giving special needs students choice.

These are plain things.

And the speaker said, “There are a couple of things here that the House may not be able to give any more on,” and my response was, “Give us any seven or eight of those and we will cheer you for those seven or eight. Let other people scold you for what you wouldn’t do. We in the party. We are not putting our thumb on the scale. Our platform is our platform. If it’s out of there and you pass it, I will thank you for doing so.”

Next year, our convention, the largest political convention in  he free world will take place during the 300th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio, during the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Republican Party of Texas, a block from the Alamo, and the theme of that convention is a line in the sand, and my comment to the speaker was, “Lets show the line in the sand, let me make your intro video so that when you walk up there, our delegates cheer for what you have done for us. That’s what we want.’

That prompted a single whoop and some tepid applause.

But Dickey had said some kind words about Joe Straus, and no one had booed or coughed.

Dickey then turned to the Texas GOP’s Line in the Sand Initiative for the special session.

Let’s fill the House & Senate galleries with Republican activists to show support for our Party and our Platform.

Extreme far-left groups  are planning to bus in paid protestors to create chaos in the chambers in an attempt to disrupt the important proceedings on the floor.  But we are drawing a line in the sand to say… “Not on our watch!”

Would you be willing to pledge just one day of your time during these next 30 days to come to the Capitol with a friend and wear red to send a positive message to our legislature, and to show the news media that conservatives really do care about the issues affecting our state?

Dickey:

We need friendly faces in those galleries. The other side is fired up and they want to make it look like they are much bigger than they are and we need to fight them and that is our Line in the Sand Initiative, Texas GOP.org.

Let our elected offical s know there are people supporting them to do the right thing and we will leave this special session with as many of those ten things as we can get. We will be celebrating into a great primary, into a great convention, into a midterm that flips on its head all of the  history that says the party that controls the White House loses in the midterm.

We don’t have to do it, especially in Texas.

The eyes not just of Texas but the nation will be on this special session.

Patrick is the heavy and Straus the hero in  Austin writer Lawrence Wright’s epic recent piece in the New Yorker, The Future is Texas: The state is increasingly diverse, but right-wing zealots are taking over.

Since Patrick became lieutenant governor, one of his signature accomplishments has been the passage of the open-carry gun law; he also successfully pushed to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons on public-college campuses. During the 2016 Presidential race, he deftly pivoted from supporting Ted Cruz to becoming Donald Trump’s campaign chair in Texas. Evan Smith, the co-founder of the Texas Tribune, an online journal dedicated to state politics, told me, “Dan Patrick is the most conservative person ever elected to statewide office in the history of Texas.” (Patrick himself declined to speak to The New Yorker.)

Patrick has driven his chamber in a far more radical direction. Even Democratic senators are loath to cross him. In this year’s session, Patrick worked on lowering property taxes and addressing some obscure matters, such as hailstorm-lawsuit reform. But the heart of his agenda was legislation that spoke to the religious right, such as a bill that would provide vouchers for homeschooling and private-school tuition, and a “sermon safeguard” bill, which would prevent state and local officials from issuing subpoenas to members of the clergy or compelling them to testify. He also worked to toughen the state’s voter-I.D. law. Patrick’s legislative agenda, if passed in its entirety, would bend Texas farther in the direction of the affluent and, above all, would fortify the political strength of white evangelicals who feel threatened by the increasing number of minorities and by changing social mores.

Patrick’s extremism is often countered by Joe Straus, the speaker of the House, a centrist, business-oriented conservative from San Antonio. Whereas the lieutenant governor is elected by the voters of the state, the speaker is chosen by the members. That makes a crucial difference in the way that Patrick and Straus govern. “Dan Patrick rules by fear,” Representative Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, told me. “Joe Straus rules by consensus.”

The 2017 session in Austin proved to be a bruising example of raw politics waged by two talented people, Straus and Patrick, who fervently believe in their causes. The story in Texas both reflects and influences the national scene. At a time when Democratic voices have been sidelined—“We’re lost in the wilderness,” Wu told me—the key struggle is within the increasingly conservative Republican Party, between those who primarily align with business interests and those who are preoccupied with abortion, gay marriage, immigration, religion, and gun rights.

The Straus-Patrick tension has only mounted since Wright’s story hit the newsstands.

With Patrick’s taunting of Straus last week and this, I thought, I’ve seen this movie before.

In fact, I saw it again Sunday night.

It’s Shane, and the scene in which Jack Palance, as the rancher’s hired gun, Jack Wilson, baits the hapless sodbuster into reaching for his gun so he can blow him away.

Straus hasn’t gone for his gun, but he has baited back.

From Fikac’s story:

The San Antonio Republican, who has stood firm against a far-reaching bathroom bill, said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News that his chamber will look at all the issues put forth by Gov. Greg Abbott for lawmakers’ consideration, which are championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

But he said his focus, and that of other House members, remains on core issues such as school finance.

“My position is very well known. And let me say this very clearly: I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said. “I know how to govern, trying to bring people together to focus on issues that really matter to all Texans, and I think that’s where our focus ought to be in the special session. It’s where our focus should be in any regular session as well.”

From Fikac’s Monday story:

AUSTIN – House Speaker Joe Straus could hardly sound less worried about a cadre of tea-party Republicans who have threatened to mount a rare leadership challenge in the middle of his term.

“When don’t I?” the San Antonio Republican told the San Antonio Express-News when asked about the possibility of having a potential challenger. “When haven’t I? It’s a competitive business.”

Straus said he’s confident that his focus on core issues is what the House overall wants, avowing that he’s not interested in being the No. 1 choice of “a handful of the most extreme members.”

Unanimously elected to a record-tying fifth term as speaker by the House in January, Straus has policy differences with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that have won him criticism from some tea-party-aligned Republicans and movement conservatives.

The speaker eschews incendiary social issues such as the bill targeting transgender people’s use of public, multi-occupancy restrooms, a key item on the agenda of the special session that begins Tuesday.

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“I have absolute confidence that focusing on core issues that are truly important to most Texans, and to our constituents in the 150 districts, is where the House members want me to help them to be,” Straus said.

“Will I be the No. 1 choice of a handful of the most extreme members? No. Never have been. Don’t want to be,” Straus said. “But I’m really comfortable being right in the sweet spot of the Texas House and helping the members go home with a credible story to tell their constituents about the good things they did for their communities.”

And then this, from Express-News columnist and editorial writer Josh Brodesky.

From Brodesky’s piece:

Politicos, particularly those of the tea party persuasion, like to note that House Speaker Joe Straus is not elected statewide.

The implication being that Republican primary voters across the Lone Star State would never elect a moderate such as Straus, making the good speaker a RINO obstructionist to the true conservative agenda. To Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland and other tea party darlings, Straus hasn’t earned his place at the Republican table even though he is a lifelong R who was sitting at the table when Stickland was potty training.

That’s why I say, Joe Straus for president!

Let’s face it, 2020 is fast approaching and the country sure could use his steady and thoughtful leadership that unifies people and serves the public with dignity, grace, pragmatism and compassion.

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Yep, the politicos are right. In a statewide Texas GOP primary, Straus is doomed. But nationally, he just might be what we need. Joe Straus, 2020.

Well, let’s not get carried away. Not gonna happen.

But, not that he’d do it, but Joe Straus could conceivably run for governor or lieutenant governor in 2018, and win.

He just can’t do it as a Republican, because he would never survive a Republican primary. But he could do it as an independent in which the Democrats, who really have no prospects of winning for either governor or lieutenant governor next year, simply stand down.

Straus would  run as an independent – in the name of saving Texas and his Grand Old Party from the extremists – pick up most of the Democratic vote, and win just enough of the independent and Republican vote to defeat Abbott or Patrick who would be in the unnatural position of having to pivot to the center.

Ridiculous? Maybe. But as Michael Quinn Sullivan never tires of pointing out, Straus has done it before.

From a  2013 profile of Michael Quinn Sullivan by Nate Blakeslee in Texas Monthly: Primary Targets

Sullivan’s favorite target by far is House Speaker Joe Straus. The San Antonio Republican wrested control of the 150-member chamber from Tom Craddick in 2009 by lining up support from all of the House’s 65 Democrats plus 11 Republicans chafing against Craddick’s autocratic rule. Afterward, Straus gave coveted committee chairmanships to all of the Republicans in the gang of 11, along with a number of Democrats. This was not unusual—the Speaker typically gives the minority party at least some leadership role. But Straus’s new Republican chairs were more independent than their predecessors, and his reliance on Democratic votes made his path to power seem illegitimate to Sullivan and other conservative hard-liners. Despite their efforts, Straus managed to hold on to the gavel after the 2010 elections, even though the Republican landslide that year gave the House a supermajority of 101 Republicans and rendered the Democrats all but powerless. In both the 2010 and 2012 primaries, TFR funded candidates to run against many of Straus’s Republican lieutenants and managed to knock off several of them. In 2012 TFR underwrote a challenger in Straus’s own district, all the while keeping up a steady drumbeat of criticism online and on the conservative speaking circuit. Straus survived, but Sullivan had so poisoned the well against the Speaker that by the time the state Republican convention rolled around, his address to the delegates had to be carefully stage-managed to minimize heckling and booing.  

And, I suppose, coughing.

As unlikely as Straus running for statewide office is, it doesn’t strike me as much more fanciful than Dickey’s rosy scenario of Straus being given a hero’s welcome at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention.

And, as those of who recall The Most Dangerous Game from junior high (aka middle school), in the end, the hunted becomes the hunter.

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