The unanimous election of Joe Straus to a fifth term as Texas House speaker was pro forma, with not even his most ardent opponents fielding a candidate against him. After taking the dais, Straus used the moment to frame no-compromise, right-wing House members as agents of discord instead of cooperation for what is best for Texans.
Two years ago, the tea party Republicans ran a candidate against him, and garnered just 19 votes in the 150-member House. Straus admonished them by saying the speaker’s race had been marred by “misleading and personal attacks,” going on to say, “You can not effectively govern this House by dividing it.” This time around, the tea party Republicans decided that voting for Straus was the best strategy. Representative Matt Rinaldi of Irving told the Austin American-Statesman he planned to vote for Straus “to show how meaningless the vote is.” Jonathan Stickland of Bedford said opponents wanted to deny Straus an opportunity to portray them as weak.
Instead, the speaker and his team, without naming anyone, orchestrated the election to portray the cadre as malcontents who are contributing to the toxic atmosphere of American politics. His various nominating speeches included one by Representative Mark Keough of The Woodlands who was a tea party Christian minister who had voted against Straus two years ago. “I even campaigned in my district according to the wishes of a variety of groups, good people, well-meaning people.” Keough said he got to know Straus and found the San Antonio Republican to be a man without animosity. Then during the session, he heard members “aggressively” argue against him. “Speaker Straus stood there and he took it and he acted with statesmanship and a concern for the full House,” Keough said. “He has created an environment by example.”
In his speech, Straus named as priorities protecting the state business climate, mental health reform, overhaul of the school finance system and improvements in Child Protective Services so children will not have to fear their parents or sleep in state offices because not enough foster homes are available. He called on the House to engage in civil discourse and constructive disagreement without anyone abandoning their core principles. “There’s a disconnect between the way we talk about politics in this country and the way that most Texans treat each other,” Straus said. “The corrosive cynicism that dominates the public discussion of politics does not reflect the character of our people. The Texans we represent are kind, and they are decent, and they are charitable.”
No sooner was the vote for speaker over than Stickland sent out a tweet reading: “Now the war begins.”