Momentum is building for Republicans to vote as a bloc for Texas House speaker.
Eighty-one conservative leaders from around the state on Monday called on GOP House candidates to support majority rule when the party’s caucus votes for a successor to retiring Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.
Rep. John Zerwas, an announced candidate for the job, was highlighted by the group for declaring that the next speaker “needs to be rallied around by both the Republicans and the Democrats.”
“This is exactly how we ended up with a Republican House speaker who boldly proclaimed his intentions to obstruct key legislative initiatives supported by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick,” said JoAnn Fleming, Tyler-based spokeswoman for the Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition.
The group of 81 also assailed a caucus working group’s proposal for a non-binding process in selecting the next speaker.
“Where is the accountability?” the group asked. “We are fed up with obstructionists in the Texas House who work overtime to sabotage property tax reform, spending limits and a whole host of conservative reforms supported by the Texas Republican Party Platform.”
One of the signatories is Don Dyer, treasurer of the New Leadership PAC, which is offering campaign “bounties” of $100,000 to candidates running against Straus loyalists in the 2018 GOP primaries.
Straus has since countered with a campaign fund-raising effort of his own to protect and reward his allies.
The Texas Republican Party is asking all House candidates to commit to supporting the will of the caucus. Signing the pledge is voluntary.
The GOP House Caucus is scheduled to meet this weekend to consider speaker-selection rules. State Republican Party Chairman James Dickey told The Texas Monitor he expects a decision will be announced Saturday.
Meantime, Dyer told The Texas Monitor that rearguard efforts by Straus forces may attempt to delay or scuttle caucus deliberations. “Rumor has it that ‘Team Corruption’ is going to try to block the vote from happening,” he said.
Neither Straus spokesman Jason Embrey nor Zerwas responded to The Texas Monitor’s requests for comment by deadline.
Mark Jones, the political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, said a litmus test on the speakership isn’t likely to sway voters, one way or the other.
“Failing or waffling in response to this litmus test could hurt some centrist conservatives in the 2018 primaries, but I do not think passing the test would represent any type of liability for GOP candidates in November 2018,” Jones told The Texas Monitor.
“In the first place, only about 10-12 GOP-held seats are likely to be even remotely competitive in 2018, and, in addition, only the very most politically sophisticated political observers understand the distinction between the speaker being informally selected in the GOP caucus vs. leaving the speaker’s selection solely to a vote on the House floor.”
Jones also noted that a few “influential tea party groups” — notably the NE Tarrant Tea Party — did not sign onto the coalition.
NE Tarrant leader Julie McCarty declined to comment.
Fleming told The Monitor: “It is important to note that this coalition is built around a mission to advance conservative principles through conservative legislation. It is not an attempt to create some monolithic icon.”