Toxic Mike
Tue December 11, 2012 11:47 am

Last week Michael Quinn Sullivan posted a story on the Empower Texans web site headlined "Toxic Joe." The reference, of course, is to Joe Straus, the speaker of the House, whom Sullivan has tried to remove from power, with nothing to show for his efforts. The Sullivan-imposed nickname of "Toxic Joe" is full of irony, because if there were a poll of who is the most-toxic person in the Capitol, Sullivan would win, hands-down (and be proud of it).

Sullivan's writing style relies heavily on inuendo. A typical example:

With the race for the leadership of the Texas House heating up, many are feigning surprise that incumbent moderate Joe Straus hasn’t released a list of supporters despite increasingly brittle claims of invincibility.

Of course, what Sullivan is trying to do here is to create an impression of weakness in the Straus camp—as if to say, Straus must not be doing well because he hasn't released a list of supporters. Why would Straus do so? Why would the frontrunner reveal to his enemies the names of his supporters, so that Sullivan can rally the tea parties to excoriate those who support the speaker?

Sullivan goes on to say, allegedly quoting unnamed Straus supporters, that "Team Straus recognizes that the speaker is 'toxic' with the grassroots. That’s the word used in at least a dozen conversations over the last several weeks by a handful of Straus supporters trying to bring more lawmakers to their side."

It's no secret that some of the activists in the Republican party—tea parties, precinct chairs, county chairs, leaders of grass-roots organizations—are not Straus fans. But the activists can't vote in a speaker's race. What they have done in the past, and will probably try to do again, is try to bully weak-minded members into supporting David Simpson, who is Straus's only announced challenger, now that Bryan Hughes has given up the ghost and endorsed Simpson.

Here is more innuendo from Sullivan's article:

One incumbent legislator told a colleague that the speaker didn’t want his “many supporters” to feel heat from the grassroots during December. It’s an interesting strategy, and a telling admission. They know voters have little confidence in Mr. Straus’ leadership, and yet are so beholden to appeasing the cronies Straus represents, they’re working to get others to betray their constituents!

Unfortunately for Sullivan—and Simpson—"voters" don't matter. They can vote in primaries, they can vote in general elections, but not in speaker's races. Try as he might, he can't change the constitutional imperative that "the House of Representatives shall, when it first assembles, organize temporarily and proceed to the election of a speaker from its own members." The constitution doesn't mention "activists" or "voters." Only 150 people can cast a vote in a speaker's race and it will take 76 of them to stop Joe Straus from winning a third term. And Sullivan doesn't have 76 votes. In fact, if Straus's hold on the speakership is so slight, why hasn't Sullivan produced the names of 76 members who won't vote for Straus?

During the last legislative session, Mr. Simpson took to the floor of the House decrying Straus’ inconsistent application of House rules. Since then, Mr. Simpson has spoken out against the Straus leadership team’s use of redistricting as a weapon of revenge against legislators. Mr. Simpson knows a thing or two about beating powerful incumbents. He entered the legislature by defeating one of Joe Straus’ closest allies, Tommy Merritt. This year, the Straus Team had Merritt try to retake the seat, only to be easily defeated by Mr. Simpson. The race is far from over, and the advantages an incumbent House Speaker wields are not inconsequential. Yet by having not released the names of his supporters and daily acknowledging his toxicity, the case gets stronger that Joe Straus has neither the popular appeal, nor even the internal support, to continue as Speaker. Sadly, only two dozen of the 95 Republicans have scheduled the GOP Platform-required town hall meetings with their constituents to discuss leadership issues. Time is short, since these meetings are supposed to happen before the start of the legislative session in early January.

Mr. Sullivan's innuendo-heavy attack on Straus is cleverly worded to create the impression that Straus is in trouble. I don't buy a bit of it. I repeat what I said in an earlier post: Neither Bryan Hughes nor David Simpson has the gravitas to be elected speaker of the House.

What is strange to me is that Mr. Sullivan keeps the pot boiling, knowing that he has lost. He knows that Mr. Simpson is too green and too untutored to be speaker. Yet he keeps up an attack on Straus that is doomed to fail. He has tried and tried to find a way that the activists can pressure Republican members to vote against Straus, but he has met with nothing but failure. I can only assume that Sullivan is playing to the gallery here—the gallery being his readers across the state who believe the innuendo-filled nonsense that Straus is on the ropes. The game is lost, Sullivan has no candidate for speaker, and he hasn't made a dent in Straus's support. The more he rails against Straus, the more he relegates himself to the status of paper tiger.

Finally, Sullivan is wrong when he says the race is far from over. As I write, it is December 11. Two weeks to Christmas, one week to New Year's, and one week to the vote for speaker on January 8—and the end of David Simpson's quixotic race for speaker.

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