On the morning of January 2, state representative Joe Straus III, of San Antonio, was a little-known member of the Texas House who had not yet served two full terms. Many of his fellow members hardly knew him; few could say where his desk was located on the House floor. As he prepared to drive to Austin for a meeting with a group of ten Republican colleagues who had sworn to prevent controversial House Speaker Tom Craddick from being reelected to a fourth term, Straus’s wife, Julie, asked him when he would return. Having no inkling that his life was about to change, he didn’t suspect that the correct answer was “June.”
Heading up Interstate 35, Straus debated whether he should allow his name to be entered in the voting that would take place that afternoon to determine a challenger to Craddick. He was such a long shot that he hadn’t bothered to submit the requisite papers declaring his candidacy to the Texas Ethics Commission. When he arrived at the private residence where the anti-Craddick group, known as the ABCs, for “Anybody but Craddick,” was meeting, Brian McCall, of Plano, hastily arranged for Straus to file.
Nine of the eleven dissidents put their names on the ballot—the two exceptions being Rob Eissler, of the Woodlands, who was out of the state and participated by telephone, and Charlie Geren, of Fort Worth. The group had agreed that each member would circle two of the nine names. The two lowest vote-getters would drop off, and the process would be repeated. After three rounds, the choice was down to McCall, Straus, and Burt Solomons, of Carrollton. McCall was eliminated in the fourth round, and Straus edged Solomons by a single vote. As the news got out, House members began calling one another, beginning their conversations with a one-word question freighted with disbelief: “ Straus?”
Texas politics is full of surprises, but no one, least of all the 49-year-old Straus, was prepared for the stunning announcement that he was the dissidents’ choice to challenge Craddick for the speakership. Because most House Democrats had been exiled to the backbenches during the six years of Craddick’s speakership, they