James Dickey, who was elected Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas in June 2017, gave his first far-reaching interview about the historic censure of House Speaker Joe Straus that occurred on Saturday.
“It was not something that the body, the State Republican Executive Committee, took lightly at all,” Dickey told The Texas Monitor. “We were very careful to make absolutely sure to follow all of the procedures properly. It was a very open and transparent process.”
The vote was 44-19 to censure the speaker, who is not seeking re-election, overcoming the threshold requirement that two-thirds of the 64 SREC members must approve.
There were two censure resolutions proposed.
While the one against Joe Straus stood, the one against Byron Cook failed.
“I had called and spoken to both as soon as I knew there was a chance they would come up,” Dickey said. “They both appreciated the advance notice,” but “neither was present.”
According to Dickey: “We were very deliberative, very cautious. We had a debate. There was an early attempt to stifle debate and that was voted down. The body was able to debate this at great length.”
He also said having an open debate was key.
“No matter what the outcome, if this had been done behind closed doors it would have felt like a smoke-filled room deal. And that’s not what we do,” he 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 in a previous interview. “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.
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.
Trent Seibert can be reached at tseib[email protected] or at 832-258-6119.