Making good on a promise he made in January, state Rep. Eric Johnson has filed his intention to run for Speaker of the Texas House.
Johnson, who was first elected by the voters in District 100 in 2009, is the first Democrat to announce for Speaker, a vote that will be taken by House members on the first day of the 2019 session in January.
Republicans, with a considerable majority, have controlled the Speaker’s post since the 2003 session. This will be the first election for an open seat since the 1993 session, with Speaker Joe Straus having announced he would not run for another term in the House.
“What Texas needs is a strong, pro-growth, progressive leader presiding over the Texas House to act as a counterbalance to a far-right governor and lieutenant governor,” Johnson said in a statement he issued to the press Wednesday. “I am running for speaker to help restore normalcy to Texas state politics.”
Johnson, 42, is the vice chair of the House Redistricting Committee and a member of the Ways and Means, Investments and Financial Services, Select State and Federal Power and Responsibility committees.
He is a cum laude graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University, and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
In taking note of his intention to run for House Speaker and endorsing him for the Democratic primary in March, the Dallas Morning News editorial board on Jan. 3 summarized Johnson’s legislative career this way:
“He authored 72 bills in the 2017 Legislature, and co-authored another 12. Many of these bills were minor. And as a Democrat in a GOP-led chamber, most of his more ambitious efforts failed,” the board wrote. “But Johnson, 42, also had notable successes that we have applauded.”
The board applauded passage of a Johnson bill prohibiting public schools from punishing students in the second grade and younger with suspension. And the board approved of his work on a bill creating a pre-K teacher certification program.
“Johnson sometimes appears too eager for self-promotion,” the board wrote. “His announcement that he plans to run for the Speaker’s chair was a surprise; he’s been in the House since 2010. But these are quibbles set against a record of achievement and ambition.”
Last week, Johnson made headlines when he drafted a letter to Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton asking who has the authority to remove a plaque on the north wall of the Capitol rotunda dedicated in 1959 by The Children of the Confederacy. The plaque urges the study and teaching of “the truths of history [one of the most important of which is, that the War between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery].”
Johnson, who, if elected, would become the first African-American House Speaker, also asked Paxton if a writ of mandamus could be used to compel anyone from the Capitol curator to Gov. Greg Abbott to take down the plaque.
Johnson grew frustrated when he did not hear back from the governor’s office after meeting with Abbott in October to request the removal of the plaque, according to a Dallas Morning News story. The story said outgoing Speaker Straus said he favored removing the plaque, but that it would be a political struggle to get it taken down.
“I don’t want to erase the past,” Johnson told the Dallas Morning News reporter. “I want to tell the true story.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].