No sooner had I declared that the speaker’s race appeared to be over than the Bryan Hughes letter came out:
REP. BRYAN HUGHES WITHDRAWS SUPPORT FOR SPEAKER STRAUS
Today after much prayer and counsel, I formally withdraw my support for Speaker Joe Straus. I do this with no malice toward the Speaker or any other member.
Over the past several days I have heard from an increasing number of my constituents and supporters. Their unanimous voice has called for me to withdraw my support of Speaker Straus.
My decision, though not a light one, was made clearer after a phone call I received over the weekend from a member of Speaker Straus’s leadership team. This member brought up the subject of redistricting and explained to me how that process would be used to punish those members not on Speaker Straus’s list of supporters.
More specifically, this member told me that maps were already being drawn to get rid of Representative-Elect Erwin Cain (R-Sulphur Springs) and Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van), because they were not on the Speaker’s list of supporters.
I was then told that I had nothing to worry about in redistricting, so long as I stayed on the Speaker’s list.
This conversation first saddened and then disgusted me.
Using the redistricting process for retribution reminds us of all that is wrong with politics. The Speaker’s race should be decided not based on threats of punishment and not on promises of power, but on principle.
The people of Texas have chosen us to speak for them. As we prepare to cast our first vote on their behalf, we should lay aside our ambition for powerful committees, stand against the threats, and support the Speaker candidate who best represents our conservative principles.
* * * *
This is dynamite, and it could blow up Straus overnight. I’m not even sure he has until overnight. He’d better get a statement out pronto. He is going to have to find the culprit and throw him under the bus clearly and unambiguously. I’m told that Straus is in Laredo. He’d better get back to Austin and try to put the fire out before it is too late.
This is the first time Joe Straus’s political skill has ever been tested. He has had a free ride up to now. He could sit back and let the process work and preside with equanimity. The free ride is over. He is up against one of the worst situations in politics: As the old saying goes, your friends can do you a lot more harm than your enemies can. One of his inner circle–Hughes says it is a member, so it’s not a staffer–has committed sabotage. That person has to go. He has to be ostracized, banished, cast out. Time is short.
I can’t believe that any politician could be so stupid as to talk about redistricting and “maps being drawn” more than half a year in advance. There is no way that Straus would be a party to this, no chance at all. But he is going to have to convince the members of that. And he doesn’t have a lot of time in which to do it. Tomorrow may be too late.
There is, of course, another way to analyze this situation, and it is that this is just another maneuver in the speaker’s race – an attempt to impugn Straus’s integrity and to associate him with the evils of the Craddick era, when members were threatened–including Bryan Hughes. As things currently stand, we do not know who the offending member of Straus’s leadership team was. This allegation would be a lot more credible if Hughes would identify the member, even if only to Straus. Right now, the threatener is anonymous.
If you are thinking along these lines, it does seem unlikely that “maps are currently being drawn” for a process that will not take place until the late spring or summer. The census numbers aren’t even available and won’t be until April. The process is still at the hearings stage. The more I think about this, the less likely it seems that Straus lieutenants are even thinking about redistricting. If the anti-Straus faction wants to make the threat credible, all they need to do is have Hughes identify the member of Straus’s leadership team who made the implied threat. No name, no credibility.
Here’s another thing I wonder about. The Straus team has plenty of votes. Why would they seek to punish anybody? They have 120+ pledges, less Hughes’s. They know they don’t have Dan Flynn’s vote, nor do they need it. Why would they punish Erwin Cain? They know they don’t have his vote, nor do they need it. What the anti-Straus faction needs is to create fear among members. I’m not going to pre-judge this situation either way, but, given the stakes and the situation in which the anti-Straus faction finds itself, I am not going to rule out that this was a brilliant play to destablize Straus’s support.