This report is from my colleague Patricia Kilday Hart, who attended Warren Chisum’s press conference this morning:
Warren Chisum, surrounded by an impressive array of dead animal heads on his basement Capitol office walls (“I still remember the looks in their eyes”) announced this morning that he was still a candidate for Speaker of the Texas House.
Chisum said he interprets the huge Republican win Tuesday as an endorsement by Texans of conservatism, rather than a rebuke of Washington-style politics.
Under that reasoning, he called for the Republican Caucus of the Texas House to meet and choose the next Speaker – which is how things are done in Washington, D.C. (He acknowledges he opposed this idea when Democrat Pete Laney was Speaker, but said times – and politics – have changed.)
“The race is not over,” Chisum said. “I am still in the race for Speaker of the House.”
I asked whether that meant Democrats did not count in the Speaker’s race. “That’s not where we are at,” he said – explaining further that with such a large majority elected Tuesday “the Republicans need to act like Republicans and choose a leader in the caucus.” He added that he did not think such a move would “disenfranchise” the Democrats.
Reporters asked: What mistakes has Straus made as Speaker?
Chisum: Some committee chairs were not sufficiently conservative.
I asked about the document that Republican activist David Barton circulated at the Republican convention in Dallas in June calling for Straus’ removal. Did he endorse the contents? “I don’t know that there are any false statements in there,” he responded.
On further questioning about Straus’ record, Chisum said “I didn’t notice any illegal immigration bills getting passed” last session and said he would be willing to take a long look at an Arizona-style law. He added that “a carbon copy” would probably not work in Texas.
As for Straus’ pledges, he said, “Money talks.”
On other issues, Chisum said Texas should seriously consider “opting out” of Medicaid – but quickly added, “we can’t just walk away.” He seemed to indicate some government health insurance program would need to fill in the role of a safety net.
He did not rule out the possibility of seeking a coalition with Democrats if he failed to win the Speakership within the Republican Caucus He did not elaborate on how he could effectively win over Democrats after trying to exclude them from the speaker election.
Immediately after the press conference, I hopped aboard an elevator with State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who was headed to a Joe Straus press mixer. In typical “Miz Thompson” fashion, she confided to the assembled reporters that she was disappointed that her friend, Mr. Chisum, would want to cut Democrats out of the process of electing a Speaker. (I was reminded of the killer Ann Richards’ line about many an adversary: “Bless his heart.”)
Straus, protected by an impressive front line of House members, told reporters he wasn’t opposed to the Republican Caucus meeting and choosing a Speaker. “I’ll leave it up the members,” he shrugged. “It’s something we haven’t done before.” He claimed pledges from 79 of 99 Republicans, and insisted, “I’m not defensive” about a caucus vote.
My take: Hard to figure how Chisum peels off enough Republicans after Straus’s active campaign contributions – plus, how do Democrats justify voting for a guy who excluded their votes in the first go-round? He’s going to need a helluva pick-up line.