by JEN BIUNDO
With the Texas Republicans now holding a clear supermajority in the House of Representatives, conservative activists across the state are turning their attention to intra-party battles for control of the top leadership positions.
The Hays County Republican Party executive committee unanimously passed a resolution Monday night urging State Rep.-Elect Jason Isaac not to vote for Joe Straus in his bid to retain the position of Speaker of the House. Straus faces challenges from more conservative House members, including Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) and Ken Paxton (R-McKinney).
Though rumors that Chisum had dropped out of the race reverberated around the blogosphere echo chamber last week, he responded Friday on his Facebook page with a post asserting that he was still in the race.
Straus captured the speaker’s seat from Tom Craddick last session with the support of 72 Democrats and 16 Republicans, promising to usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation. He appointed several Democrats to key committee chair positions, including Hays County Representative Patrick Rose, who held on to his plum assignment as head of the Human Services Committee.
But with a red tidal wave of GOP victories at the November polls, some party members say they want a more conservative official as Speaker.
“As far as Joe Straus goes, he is a more moderate Republican,” said Hays County Party Chair Bud Wymore. “There is a place in the Republican Party for people like Joe Straus that are more moderate – it’s just not in leadership positions. He doesn’t represent the strong conservative values we saw in November.”
However, Isaac is showing an independent streak as he takes the lay of the political landscape in the weeks leading up to his swearing-in.
“It’s good to hear from people in the district and hear what their thoughts or concerns are,” Isaac said, but added, “It’s not going to force me into making a decision one way or another. When it finally comes down to making a vote, it will be for the best interest of House District 45. That’s been my position the whole time. I’m just not going to rush to judgment.”
This May, as Isaac was mounting what was then viewed as a long-shot challenge against a well-funded four-term incumbent, Straus attended a Hays County fundraiser for Isaac’s opponent, Patrick Rose. Some county Republican leaders were left aghast at what they interpreted as an implicit endorsement of the other party. Straus also ignored multiple invitations to appear at other Hays County GOP events, Wymore said.
“The only time that he’s come to Hays County in his official capacity as a speaker was to raise money for a Democrat,” Wymore said. “People from all across the state were asking us about the fundraising event. He officially turned his back on Republicans in Hays County, and there’s a lot of frustration over that. There’s a lot of people that strongly believe he doesn’t deserve our support because he turned his back on us.”
Typically, a representative’s vote in the speaker’s race is less of an ideological pledge and more of a calculated strategic move aimed at securing good committee assignments and favorable treatment of bills. The speaker wields significant power by appointing members to committees and controlling debate on the House floor.
Sherri Greenberg, a former Texas state representative and Interim Director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said the recent flurry of activism surrounding the speaker’s race is somewhat unusual.
“Certainly there is a grassroots momentum pushing for more conservative leadership of the Republican Party,” Greenberg said. “The rules say that the members elect their leaders and it’s really been seen as the domain of the members.”
Greenberg said she believed Straus would easily retain the position, due to his advantage of incumbency and wide support. The San Antonio lawmaker reported that he had pledges of support from 120 of the 150 House members.
Despite the outcome of the speaker’s race, Wymore said the 82nd Legislative session promised to be a good one for Republicans in the county and state.
“I don’t think there are internal struggles within the party so much,” Wymore said. “I am very confident that conservative legislation will be passed in this legislature. I think Republicans are going to get almost everything they want out of this next session.”
JENNIFER BIUNDO is a senior writer for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the Mercury.