Republican caucus leadership said to be considering a straw poll for speaker; also caucus to choose speaker
Sun November 14, 2010 5:40 pm

[This post has been revised today. The latest information is that the purpose of a poll would be to determine if the speaker should be chosen by the Republican caucus. I read this information on the Quorum Report.]

The caucus leadership is Straus-unfriendly, to put it mildly. Taylor has been playing both sides. Parker is pledged to Paxton. Morrison is part of the original Craddickite cabal. Hancock and Harper-Brown round out the list. Straus helped Harper-Brown in the campaign, if that still counts for anything. I doubt that Hancock supports Straus.

The unknown factor is how strong the anti-Straus forces are. They surely have added some freshmen (but so has Straus), and they have future switchers that are not too hard to predict: Rob Orr (who listens to Wohlgemuth) and Allen Fletcher (who listens to Dan Patrick). My sense is that the anti-Straus people are making most of the noise, but Straus still has most of the votes. What constitutes "noise?" It is the effort to generate the appearance of strength to make up for the lack thereof. Michael Quinn Sullivan has put out an e-mail for the last several days claiming to have, first, 2,700 signatures on a petition for a conservative speaker, then 3,000, and, today, 4,000.

Keep in mind, too, that the Republican caucus cannot take action without a two-thirds vote. That means 66 votes are needed to carry a proposition to elect the speaker by majority vote of the caucus. Even so, I would not put it past this group to take action on their own to initiate such a poll. If the straw poll is not a secret ballot, the results could be used to "out" members who do not want the speaker chosen by the caucus--information that could be very useful in a RINO hunt. In short, there is no purpose to such a poll when the state constitution provides that a vote must be taken when the Legislature is first assembled. Anything else that the caucus leadership wants to do is just subterfuge. Such are the gutter tactics that are being employed by the anti-Straus faction. I would further question whether the leadership has the authority to conduct such a poll on their own motion. It is not even clear what the Republican caucus consists of at this moment. Are the defeated members (Delwin Jones, Tommy Merritt, Betty Brown) eligible to vote? Are the new members?

The anti-Straus forces do not have a history of success. They backed social conservative Cathie Adams for chair of the Republican Party at the state convention last summer against Steve Munisteri. She lost. Munisteri has helped revitalize the RPT -- with the assistance of contributions from Straus and others. The outside forces opposing Straus also failed in their effort to pass an RPT platform plank calling for the House Republican caucus to choose the speaker candidate.

Here is the Dan Branch letter raising issues about the legal issues involved in having a straw poll for speaker. Unfortunately, I did not receive it until late yesterday:

Dear Larry, Geanie, Kelly, Linda and Tan:

It has come to my attention that the House Republican Caucus Executive Committee has decided to conduct a straw poll about Speaker selection, and is considering a meeting to select a Caucus choice for Speaker.

Before embarking on a process, we need to be as transparent as possible, follow the Texas Constitution, the Government Code, and all other laws, especially in light of the allegations made last week by a Member that are now being considered by the House General Investigating Committee.

The concept of a Caucus straw poll or meeting regarding Speaker selection matters raises numerous questions that need to be answered for the benefit of all Members and Members-Elect:

1) Will the process be fully transparent? Do any Open Records or Open Meetings laws apply to the process?

2) Who will be asking the questions and collecting the answers that Members give in the anticipated "anonymous" straw poll? What is the precise question that is to be asked?

3) Will the process be as inclusive as possible? Will the Members-Elect participate in a poll or meeting?

4) The House Republican Caucus bylaws have some ambiguities relating to membership, eligibility and the Speaker statute. How do all of these work together? So that all actions are lawful, should we have these legal issues thoroughly vetted and meet as a Caucus to clarify the bylaws before further action is taken?

As the procedures for the election of the Speaker are set out specifically in the Texas Constitution and the Government Code, we must be certain that a straw poll or Caucus meeting does not conflict with constitutional or statutory law. Thank you for your many efforts and your thoughtful consideration of these questions on behalf of the Members and Members-Elect.

Sincerely,

Dan Branch

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