Simpson's in. Hughes is out. And Joe Straus probably isn't going to lose the Speaker's race.
That's the first wave of reaction to this morning's Texas legislature news, which found Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) filing to run for Speaker of the House, immediately displacing Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) as the conservative challlenger to two-time incumbent Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
As Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune reported, Simpson announced his intentions with an open letter in which he promised to "transform the way the House is led and the spirit of its operations. . . . The culture of ‘go along to get along’ politics, where members face intimidation and retribution should they disagree with a leadership decision, stifles representative government."
"My own policy views are no secret to you," Simpson continued. "I believe in and will always work for limited government and the protection of civil liberties. But, this does not necessitate a strong-arm approach to leadership. In fact, it requires the opposite."
Hughes withdrew from the race almost immediately, issuing a statement that began, “I wholeheartedly endorse my friend David Simpson for Speaker of the House."
The possibility of Simpson running was first reported by the Tribune's Evan Smith and Jay Root late last Sunday night.
At that time, Simpson said, "I’m praying about it. And I’ll do the right thing," while Hughes said he was "going full speed ahead."
Texas Monthly 's Paul Burka had speculated last week about a possible "divide-and-conquer" strategy against Straus. Obviously that has not turned out to be the case, but, Burka opined then, "neither David Simpson nor Bryan Hughes has demonstrated that he has the gravitas to be speaker."
Like U.S Senator-elect Ted Cruz, Simpson's name seems to come with the permanent modifier, "Tea Party favorite." He's best known for his "anti-groping" bill against the Transportation Security Administration, which at one time Straus described as "an ill-advised publicity stunt."
That bill did not pass during the last session, but Simpson's " Texas Travel Freedom Act " has already been filed for 2013. Many Tea Party activists blamed Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst for manuevers that led to the first bill's failure. A PAC-made video of Simpson blasting Dewhurst for that on several conservative blogs is now set to "private" on YouTube.
"In his first term last session, Simpson was anything but go-along-get-along," wrote Christy Hoppe of the Dallas Morning News . Hoppe continued:
A size-up of the race still has Straus in a comfortable position to maintain the gavel. The 55 Democrats, while grousing at Straus for not giving them enough authority, are unlikely to back a conservative libertarian like Simpson. If Dems vote as a bloc, only 21 of the 95 Republican votes would be necessary for Straus to retain his leadership post.
That was also the takeway from Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News . “(Straus) is entirely safe,” lobbyist Bill Miller told her.
“I have the support of a strong majority of Republicans and a strong majority of Democrats,” Straus said.
As Becca Aaronson and Brandi Grissom noted in a Texas Tribune /New York Times profile of Simpson in June, 2011, Simpson led the anti-Straus prayer vigil that had Jon Stewart and The Daily Show suggesting anti-Semitism against Straus, who is Jewish.
"Holding his cowboy hat in hand, [Simpson] prayed, “Father, we plead with you that you would give us a godly, humble leader of the Texas House," Aaronson and Grissom wrote.
While Straus's perceived accommodation of his Democratic colleagues is one of the things that irks the right about the Speaker, Sam Hurt of the blog "Conservative Politics Texas Style" sees the same in Simpson.
"He was recently seen at dinner in Austin with Trey Martinez Fischer, the self appointed spokesman for the Democrat Party of Texas," Hurt complained, while noting that it now seems clear Hughes was just running for name recognition, and possibly as a stalking horse for Simpson, to whom Hughes was also a top campaign donor. He continued:
Why would Simpson consider running for Speaker against a friend and someone he donated so much money to--it is not a common practice for Members to donate so much money to another colleague. Unless they had a plan--Bryan is to run for a while (gaining name ID, money and contacts ie: see Ken Paxton) and then drop out for David to run which was ultimately the objective. My only flaw in the scenario is that David is not well thought of and Members think he is kind of creepy. He has no chance at becoming Speaker.
Below, the full video of Simpson's infamous, impassioned speech after the anti-groping bill was first killed in the House.