No vote on Speaker race rules, members meet again in September

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Joe Straus
Joe Straus - AP Photo/Eric Gay

A House Republican Caucus meeting Wednesday where the discussion centered around how to choose the next Speaker of the House broke up with no votes taken, but with a plan to talk about the issue again next month.

The meeting was asked for by the Texas Freedom Caucus, a small coalition of House members unhappy with the moderate path the Texas House leadership has taken.

It was not clear how many would attend given the controversial discussion matter, but Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), estimated that more than 80 Republican members were there. There are 95 GOP Texas House members in all.

House Speaker Joe Straus was also in attendance.

Schaefer described the meeting — it was not open to the public — as one with a “very open, positive and frank discussion.”

Straus was first elected as Speaker in 2009 and was most recently elected Speaker again January 2017, placing him among the longest serving House Speakers in Texas.

The San Antonio Republican has been criticized by Tea Party conservatives for being too moderate, and for how he first was elected Speaker with the help of Democrats. Straus has also appointed Democrats to key House committees.

The conventional wisdom is that with all the House Republicans voting for their choice for Speaker instead of the going to the full House first where Democrats can also cast a Speaker vote, there is a better chance for conservatives to pry Straus from his seat.

“I think the discussion was healthy,” Schaefer said. “There were different perspectives that were shared, even opposing perspectives, but yet a general feeling that it is a good discussion to be having… and there was a general agreement that this conversation should continue.”

Legislative reporters were on hand as Straus, Schaefer, and the other members spilled out of the 90-minute meeting.

From The Dallas Morning News:

Moments before, loud applause could be heard inside a committee room in a Capitol complex building as the meeting concluded.

Several participants said members all stood and clapped to thank Straus, a San Antonio Republican, for his five sessions of service as the chamber’s presiding officer.

“It was very positive for the future as we continue dialogue about how we should best lead and take Texas forward,” said Flower Mound Rep. Tan Parker, chairman of the caucus.

The next meeting on the topic will take place in September at the annual Texas Republican House Caucus retreat, Schaefer said.

“The takeaway from this discussion was that a second discussion on this same topic will happen, which I take as a very positive development,” he said.

This meeting came as the special legislative session came to a close. It also came with barbs being shot at Straus from Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Texas Tribune reported on an Abbott interview on KTRH-740AM:

In the interview, Abbott contrasted the House with the Senate, which moved quickly to pass all but two items on his agenda. The lower chamber started the special session by “dilly-dallying,” Abbott said, and focused on issues that had “nothing to do whatsoever” with his call.

Asked if he assigned blame to Straus, a San Antonio Republican, Abbott replied, “Well, of course.”

The last time Straus faced a challenger was in 2015. Straus easily bested Tea Party favorite Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco).

The last contested vote before that was in 1975.

Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.

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