Seeking fresh leadership, Republicans in the Texas House will vote on new rules for selecting a successor to retiring Speaker Joe Straus.
A report to the GOP Caucus proposed a “non-binding” bylaw change that would authorize the caucus to name the top Speaker candidate — through a series of elimination votes, if necessary.
The proposed selection process, put forward by a caucus working group in a 5-0 vote, stops short of requiring Republican House members to support whoever emerges as the top choice.
“The Speaker candidate shall be the person whom the members of the caucus should vote in favor of for the next Speaker of the House,” the report states.
The working group said the caucus’s choice for Speaker would be non-binding. The Texas Constitution mandates that members of the House elect a Speaker from among their members.
That said, the five-member panel acknowledged, “There appear to be no legal restrictions on the caucus selecting or otherwise endorsing a nominee.”
A growing number of Republicans have chafed under Straus’ leadership as the San Antonio lawmaker quashed conservative legislation and appointed Democrats to committee chairmanships.
Before Straus announced that he would retire at the end of 2018, a group called New Leadership PAC had formed to challenge Straus and fund candidates opposed to the Speaker.
“Straus knew he would lose at the caucus,” Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told The Texas Monitor.
NLP Treasurer Don Dyer questioned the modesty of the proposed rule.
“If the purpose of this whole process is to ensure that a Speaker is elected that is acceptable to the majority of Republican members in the House, why would it not be mandatory rather than just a suggestion? Why even bother?”
Dyer said he hopes the caucus will “seize this historic opportunity and be bold and courageous in this effort.”
“Members who do not vote for the Republican Speaker candidate for Speaker of the House should be automatically expelled from the caucus. Supporting the Caucus choice needs to be added to the requirements for membership,” he told The Texas Monitor.
“If you want to vote for the leader the Democrats choose, you have certainly earned the right to caucus with them.”
Now the race is on to find a consensus choice for the House’s top job. Reps. Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond have announced their candidacies for Speaker. Other contenders, with more to come, could include Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Four Price of Amarillo, and Tan Parker, who chairs the GOP Caucus.
Under the rules proposed by the working group, “Any member of the Texas Legislature may be nominated to be the Speaker candidate and shall be considered unless the nominated member objects.”
Only a simple majority of the caucus would be required for selection.
“Voting shall be conducted by secure ballot,” the proposal states. “If a new Speaker candidate is not selected on the first ballot, a second ballot shall be conducted. If a new Speaker candidate is not selected on the second ballot, additional ballots shall be conducted.”
The candidate receiving the fewest votes on each preceding ballot, beginning with the third ballot, would be eliminated.
Selection votes are slated for December in even-numbered years.
Over the years, Straus solidified his position with the unanimous support of Democrats. And House Democrats announced last week they will again vote as a bloc for the 2019 Speaker.
Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, said last month he might be a candidate for Speaker.
For now, Jones noted that several contested Republican primaries could change the complexion of the caucus.
“We’ll have a clearer vision of the field after the primaries and runoffs in May. Then we’ll know who votes,” he said.
Parker scheduled a caucus meeting for Dec. 1 in Austin to consider the selection proposal from the working group. The group was composed of Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, Jeff Leach of Plano, Chris Paddie of Marshall, and John Smithee of Amarillo.