Good day Austin:
On the eve of the special session I wrote a First Reading, For Texas GOP, the special session may be The Most Dangerous Game, in which I mused about the peril for the Texas Republican Party in two of the Big Three of Texas government – Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – gunning for the third – their fellow Republican, House Speaker Joe Straus.
At the close of that First Reading I wrote:
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.
IndeOut of that, a bumper sticker was born.
Fast forward to yesterday morning when Straus, who never seems hurried or harried, all of a sudden seemed in a hurry, if still notably unharried, to announce that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election in 2018 and, therefore, wouldn’t be seeking to extend what would be an unprecedented run as speaker in 2019.
From my story today:
“A confident leader knows when it’s time to give it back,” Straus said. “This is the first time in decades that a speaker has been able to leave this office on his own terms. So I feel good about that.”
Straus did not rule out a future run for public office, possibly even including challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election next year, though he said, “I don’t think so.”
Of the chance that he would be on the ballot for anything in 2018, Straus said, “I highly doubt it.”
Do I think Joe Straus is going to run for governor – or anything else – in 2018?
I don’t think so. I highly doubt it.
But it would have been easy enough for Straus to simply say, “No.”
Or to scoff at the suggestion.
But he didn’t say, “no.’
He didn’t scoff.
And what he did say, well, General Sherman it was not.
I don’t know.
My guess is that he was simply giving Abbott and Patrick something to think about.
I mean, my point about Straus’ potential as an independent candidate is that he really is at the center of gravity of state politics if you can see your way to counting Democrats and independents and all those Republicans who don’t vote in primaries as part of the body politic.
Indeed, Democrats led the mourning yesterday for the coming loss of Speaker Straus, nervously caressing their #TGFJS bracelets.
In subsequent interviews yesterday afternoon with the Texas Tribune and the San Antonio Express-News, Straus continued to tease about the possibility of running for something else.
From Peggy Fikac and Allie Morris at the San Antonio Express-News:
Asked whether he might run for statewide office, Straus told the San Antonio Express-News in an interview Wednesday afternoon that people approach him every day and encourage him to run for statewide office.
“People do come up to me every day and encourage me to run for statewide office, but I have always focused on the job that I have. This is the first time I have ever not had an immediate campaign to go to in a two-year cycle, so I will take some time and check in with my major supporters, which I have been doing today … and make decisions.
“It’s doubtful that I would do anything right now, other than follow through on the commitment I have to support responsible Republicans in the House,” he said.
As for whether he was ruling out a race for governor, Straus said at his news conference, “I don’t have a plan today beyond helping other responsible Republicans in (2018),” he said, adding at another point he is “not one to close doors.”
Straus gave no indication, however, that he would challenge Abbott, who is considered virtually unbeatable in the GOP primary and has more than $40 million in his campaign kitty.
In their story, Fikac and Morris noted Straus deep ties to the Republican Party.
Straus, who comes from a prominent, civic-minded family, has longstanding Republican bona fides. His mother has long been a force in Republican politics, and he started at the grassroots level as a Bexar County precinct chair. He was an intern for former U.S. Sen. John Tower, worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, managed U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith’s first campaign for Congress and last year chaired the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. He has raised and donated big money to benefit Republican candidates.
But his backing for speaker by Democrats, and the House leadership team he installed that included Democrats in key positions, angered conservatives including Michael Quinn Sullivan of the tea-party-aligned Empower Texans, who has long been on a crusade to unseat him. More than 50 Republican Party organizations around Texas have taken votes of no-confidence this year or otherwise rebuffed Straus’s leadership.
MQS notwithstanding, Joe Straus is no RINO. He is not some accidental or incidental Republican.
He has done as much as any Texan – maybe more than any – to elect Republicans to legislative office nationwide.
From the RLCC:
It’s just over one week since a truly historic election night for Republicans at all levels of the ballot. This includes at the state level, where Republicans maintained their record 69 of 99 legislative chamber majorities (while gaining two tied chambers in the blue Delaware and Connecticut Senates), held 31 of 45 lieutenant governors and grew to 31 of 50 secretaries of state, while also electing 145 new women and 17 new diverse candidates to state-level office.
Last week’s results prove once again that focusing on running the right candidates in the right districts and states can make any seat competitive. It’s what has allowed us to win in red, purple and blue states over the last eight years, and it was true again last Tuesday. Below is a snapshot of just some of the coverage we’ve seen over the last week on the GOP’s success in the states.
In other words, the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee under Straus’ leadership had …
And here was the speaker, just last weekend, from James Russell at Quorum Report.
DALLAS – To a warm reception from the crowd gathered at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus on Friday gave the keynote speech at the Texas Federation of Republican Women’s luncheon. It’s part of the group’s 31st biennial convention unfolding this weekend in DFW.
“It’s great to be with the people who made this the most reliably red state in the country,” Straus said. Speaker Straus touted the state’s Republican leadership for making Texas as big as “its trucks, its economy and Republican majority.”
Noting that he’s helped the party claim majorities at other state capitols in his role with the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, Straus said he’s often asked how Texas stays rock solid GOP.
When people in other states ask me how our party has won election cycle after election cycle in Texas, I always tell them about TFRW,” Straus said. “From the time that Republicans were a small faction in the back of the House chamber…up until today, when we are the most successful state party in the country…you’ve made it happen.”
From Texas Monthly in February 2015:
BDS: Did you look to a former speaker to learn how to do the job?
JS: I don’t have a speaker role model. I just try to approach the job with a sense of fair play and try to be patient and even-tempered. I don’t take a position on every bill. I don’t try to micromanage the leadership. I just try to treat the members and the institution with respect. I don’t apologize for building coalitions or working across the aisle. I think that’s been a real disappointment in Washington in recent years: the “aisle.” We don’t have an aisle in the Texas House. We don’t divide ourselves by party, and I think very few members want to do that. The results are almost always better when everyone gets to participate. I think we have a good thing going in the Texas House and that we can be a model for others around the country. I’ve agreed to chair the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee for the ’16 cycle, and the members there look to Texas with great envy.
BDS: Where do you want your career to go from here? Is there something beyond being speaker that interests you?
JS: I’m not a long-range planner. At the end of every session I have members come to me and say that they’re not going to run again because they’re exhausted, or they’re thinking of running for another office, perhaps the state Senate, heaven forbid. But I tell them not to make a decision at the end of May in an odd-numbered year. Go rest, relax, and let it sink in what you’ve done. So I don’t worry about where I’m going to be in a couple of years. I don’t even consider myself a full-time politician, though serving as speaker does take up most of my time. I don’t have a long-term career plan in politics.
From the First Reading in July on the Most Dangerous Game.
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.
And from Christopher Hooks yesterday at the Texas Observer: Burning Down the House: Joe Straus and the End of the Moderate Texas Republican
Joe Straus’ reputation is that of a boring and studious moderate, but that’s dead wrong. The speaker of the Texas House is a freak, a space oddity, an aberration of nature too weird to live and too rare to die. For the last decade, Joseph Richard Straus III has been one of the most unusual figures in American politics — a moderate, soft-spoken Republican who turned the chaotic lower chamber of an extremely conservative state into a parliamentary body run by a grand coalition of both parties, and kept it that way year after year despite venomous and deep-pocketed opposition.
He’s also a sort of one-man control group in Texas politics — a business-friendly, country club Republican who stayed the course while the rest of the Texas GOP disappeared entirely up its own behind. What once made him mundane now makes him almost unspeakably radical. And now that he’s not seeking re-election, Straus is best understood against the backdrop of how everything else has changed.
A nice Jewish boy from San Antonio whose mother was an old friend of the Bushes, Straus came up through the clean-cut early Republican organizations in the state, playing volleyball with Kay Bailey Hutchison and networking at Camp Wannameetagop in Brenham. He fell into public service and then fell harder, into the speaker’s chair, the subject of a plot not of his own devising. He served as speaker for five terms, longer than anyone would have thought — a lone survivor in a political party that had overheated and started to melt, like a box of G.I. Joes on a midsummer car dashboard.
The announcement came suddenly today — on Facebook, followed by a short, impromptu press conference in Straus’ office. “I feel really confident and really good about this decision,” he said. But he lamented that the position of speaker, though it carries enormous power, can “be sort of inhibiting. Every decision I make, every statement I make, I have to think about 149 other members.” In the last year or so, he said, he had tried to more directly “speak for myself about issues that I care about,” and “the reception that I’ve gotten as I’ve been more outspoken has been really strong, really positive. I want to do more of that.”
RUN JOE RUN!!!!
Straus’ announcement came the morning after Andrew White indicated his interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
From the story by Sean Collins Walsh in today’s Statesman:
Andrew White, the son of the late Gov. Mark White, may challenge Gov. Greg Abbott next year.
White is pitching himself as a conservative Democrat and a pragmatist.
Abbott is viewed as a prohibitive favorite to win, and Democrats have struggled to find credible candidates.
Pitching himself as a centrist and a pragmatist, Andrew White, the son of former Gov. Mark White, is exploring a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.
White, an investor in Houston, has never run for office but said he became interested in challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after his father died in August and after Hurricane Harvey, during which he helped rescue about 100 people on his small fishing boat.
White said hearing old stories at the funeral about how his father grappled with such weighty issues as taxes and public school finance made him realize the triviality of Abbott’s push for policies like the “bathroom bill” to prohibit transgender Texans from using the restrooms of their choice.
“Compared to what he was doing, our politicians today are playing games, and they’re trying to get more and more extreme,” Andrew White said in an interview. “Our governor and lieutenant governor are representing really well the 200,000 fringe voters in the very extreme end of their party and ignoring the 27.8 million other Texans.”