For months prior to the election, the favorite speculation game in Austin was, What number of Republicans members would it take to undermine Joe Straus's chances of keeping his speakership. I don't think anyone guessed 99. But that's the number, and the forces on the right wasted no time in firing the first shot at Straus. It came on Thursday, two days after the election, in the form of a letter to House members and members-elect from Michael Quinn Sullivan, the right wing's Mr. Outside, who can generate hysteria among superconservative organizations with a push of the "send" button. Here is Sullivan's letter to Republican lawmakers that went out on Thursday, signed by leaders of dozens of Republican organizations:
Dear Honorable Members and Members-Elect:
Tuesday night's resounding victory by conservatives in Texas and around the nation was not the result of any particular politician or group. It was the result of citizens rising up and making their voices clearly heard and it should be taken for precisely what it was is: a mandate for conservative policy leadership.
The victory of nearly two dozen new conservative Republican legislators reflects the mood of Texas voters on the state's critical issues. It as a clarion call for conservative leadership in the Texas House--leadership that has been absent the past two years. This desire for conservative leadership must be reflected from the Office of the Speaker to every committee chairmanship.
A change to a more conservative speaker is in order. The voters who labored hard for this conservative majority expect it to diligently represent their conservative values. Texans voted with the expectation they would see meaningful change for their businesses and families. The same conservative voters who made this near super-majority possible will be just as engaged in the months ahead, as they have been leading up to Victory Night. These voters will be watching and actively participating.
We urge you take time to ask your constituents -- the people who walked your precincts and made calls to their neighbors; the people who voted for you -- what kind of person they want serving as the state's third-ranking constitutional officer, and what kind of committee chairs they expect. It is their right to be involved and engaged in this important decision.
The Chisum-led opposition to Straus cannot succeed under ordinary conditions. Straus has enough pledges to be elected speaker--77 R's, 50 D's. There are only two reasons why someone on Straus's pledge list would jump from the winning side to the losing side. One is greed. The other is fear. Greed applies to Larry Taylor, the Republican caucus chair, who has publicly indicated his interest in running for speaker, notwithstanding that Straus gave him the plum assignment of a position on Sunset. The other is fear. It applies to a lot of members who are afraid of the outside groups and satraps and don't want to find themselves in their sights. So far Straus has been able to hold onto his supporters. But I would not want to bet my career on the courage of the average House member. Right now, Straus has the advantage, but we are still more than two months away from the vote on January 11, the opening day of the 82nd Legislature. A lot can happen in two months.
What is likely to happen in between is a conservative jihad that will feature a lot of disinformation. Here is an example, a false charge that Straus was responsible for the death of the sonogram bill in the last session. The author of the rebuttal letter is Kyleen Wright, of Texans for Life, who posted this letter on her Facebook page:
A charge has been leveled that Speaker Straus and his lieutenants killed the sonogram bill last session. This is categorically false, and I am disappointed about this and other claims, as well as the tenor of this race.
Speaker Straus’s office and lieutenants, in particular Chairman Charlie Geren and Chairman Todd Smith, worked consistently and in good faith with Texans for Life to pass the popular pro-life measure. Chairman Geren, as a member of the State Affairs Committee, worked to ensure an April hearing and to strengthen the weaker senate version of the bill at my request. Chairman Smith also pushed for hearings on the bill and a stronger version.
What finally killed the sonogram bill was the same thing that killed so many bills: the filibuster of the Voter ID bill, as the clock simply ran out. Even so, had former Speaker Craddick not missed the formal hearing called by Chairman Solomons on April 30th, the bill would have been voted out and ahead of Voter ID on the calendar, sailing to victory. A final Hail Mary Pass was played when Chairman Geren again intervened to secure the #2 spot on the Major State Calendar for the bill at the end of the session.
Furthermore, it was the Speaker's team who rallied to my aid to defeat the Planned Parenthood sex ed bills.
Texans for Life and I are very grateful for the help of Speaker Straus and his team.
This is going to be the first speaker's race that will take place in cyberspace.
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