In the face of growing controversy, Straus steps down

Joe Straus
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Confronted by increasing dissension in the Republican ranks, House Speaker Joe Straus announced on Wednesday that he is retiring.

It was a stunning turn for the veteran lawmaker who was unanimously re-elected Speaker for a fifth time at the start of the 2017 session.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime,” the San Antonio Republican posted on his Facebook page.

But Straus said he would not just fade away.

“Instead of acting on behalf of the entire House, I will now have a greater opportunity to express my own views and priorities. I will also continue to work for a Republican Party that tries to bring Texans together instead of pulling us apart.”

Straus’ critics argue that, on the contrary, he created discord within Republican ranks last session by blocking Senate-approved bills that would have promoted school choice, enacted property tax relief, and outlawed the compulsory collection of union dues.

He also inflamed social conservatives by bottling up legislation restricting the use of transgender bathrooms.

This month, a group called the New Leadership PAC announced plans to fund campaigns against Straus and his lieutenants.

NLP Treasurer Don Dyer said Straus’ retirement alone won’t change “the corrupt culture in the House.”

“Texans should beware of simple promotion of any hand-picked successors to Straus who would represent the status quo,” Dyer said.

Straus, first elected to the House in 2005, became increasingly at odds with  grassroots Republicans, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“He’s a wealthy man whose only real role would be to block more legislation next session,” said Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “Hearing the constant scorn of being a RINO [Republican in Name Only] wasn’t going to be all that appealing.”

While Straus’s seat appeared safe with his Alamo Heights base, the speakership was becoming problematic.

When Rep. Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford, launched a challenge for the powerful position, Straus knew opposition had grown far beyond the 12-member Freedom Caucus.

“It was more than a symbolic challenge,” Jones noted.

Within hours of Straus’ announcement, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, jumped into the speaker contest.

Zerwas has relied heavily on lobbyist contributions, mirroring the funding pattern of Straus and his allies. An analysis by The Texas Monitor showed that Zerwas received 75.9 percent of his funds from special interest lobby groups.

Zerwas, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, was third in the use of campaign funds for lifestyle-related expenses, spending $83,523 over the 2015-2016 biennium, according to The Texas Monitor’s “Living Large Index.”

King ranked 9th, at $49,380. He chairs the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee.

With King and Zerwas already in the chase, others will undoubtedly follow, seeking to carve out a niche in the GOP ranks.

One lawmaker who won’t be contending is Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. Straus’ chief lieutenant announced he, too, was retiring. The speaker had appointed Cook to chair the newly created Texas House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, and Cook pledged to “work hard throughout the remaining 14 months of my current term” to complete the assignment.

In a previously calendared meeting, the House Republican Caucus is scheduled to convene Nov. 8 to consider amending rules for electing the speaker. One proposal would bind House Republicans to support the caucus vote. That would effectively nullify the role of minority Democrats, who brought Straus to power.

With Straus leaving the field, it’s a whole new ballgame in the Texas House.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Speaker Joe Straus’ relationship with some political opponents.


    • And the “compulsory dues” bill was actually a bill to weaken teachers associations by preventing them from using payroll deduction to collect dues. There are no compulsory union dues for teachers in Texas and never has been.

    • Man made recession of the bathroom bill? Because some businesses said they wouldn’t have conventions here? Like all the artists who said the wouldn’t play in states with stand your ground laws(many have since played here), or what about all those who said they’d leave the country after Trump was elected(none did). Texas is the best place in the country to do business, no one would stay away long…it’s just a scare tactic

    • Milton Wright – Few comments reflect more hubris and ignorance than the use of the term RINO. The Tea Party/ far right does not get to define the qualities of being a Republican. Republicans from the 50’s – 80’s had some values and some sense. The merger of religion with politics has had a negative effect on both, creating an entire generation of political whores who have made a Faustian deal with Donald J Devil, hoping for power to force their morals on others. The traditional Republicans that believed the country’s growth would be benefited by pro business, pro quality of life and personal liberty, have been replaced by angry cranks who still can’t believe that an African-American had the audacity to be President, and the concept that no ones rights matter but their own. With the budget blueprints just approved, they have no credibility talking about fiscal responsibility. They have embraced the very traits they used to abhor.

    • Karen Edwards Reynolds – Our country was founded with a Constitution that has a first amendment insuring that there be a separation of church and state. There is nothing more slimy than pastors who have succumbed to the third temptation of Christ, selling their soul to the devil for the promise of power.

    • Don’t get hung up on the specific wording. The establishment clause in the first amendment has been interpreted from the ratification of our Constitution and from countless court decisions since to demand that the government and religion be separated in both principle and in function.

    • Kelin Jones – Perhaps you would be more at home in a theocracy, the Judeo- Christian version of Shariah law. Seriously, James Madison wrote this amendment at the urging of his mentor, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote extensively about the separation of church and state. The concept has been codified in law since the ratification of the Constitution. At least, up until our current President encouraged the IRS not to follow existing law by recommending they not enforce the Johnson amendment, a part of tax law dating back to the Eisenhower administration.


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