Straus Claims Victory; Chisum Says the Race is On

House Speaker Joe Straus says he's now got 130 votes for re-election as speaker — and that the only thing new is that 99 Republicans instead of 76 will make the House a much more conservative body. But State Rep. Warren Chisum says he will continue the challenge to Straus that he announced three weeks ago.

The Pampa Republican told reporters crowded into his office this morning that the next speaker should be elected by the House Republican Caucus and that he's not convinced — in spite of Straus' claims — that the 130 members who've pledged their support to the incumbent will hold fast.

"I'd just like to announce that I'm still in the race for speaker of the House. I understand that the current speaker has released his list of people that he has signed cards for. But the race is not over," Chisum said.

Straus says it is over, and cites as proof the number of people who've pledged to support him: Fewer than two dozen members are still free agents. He says he's not opposed to holding the election in the GOP caucus — "that's up to the members" — but notes Chisum's opposition to a caucus election when he was toying with a run for speaker in late 2001.

Another member, Leo Berman of Tyler, accused Straus of buying votes — by making contributions to the campaigns of House candidates from his own campaign funds. Straus, for instance, contributed $100,000 each to state Reps. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving and Charles "Doc" Anderson of Waco when those two were facing scandals that threatened their incumbencies. They won, and Berman now suggests those were bribes. Chisum wasn't as blunt but didn't disagree with the idea. "I will not deny that," he said when asked about Straus giving more than he did. "He passed out a lot of money to a lot of people."

Straus deflected that charge, saying simply that he has taken care to follow the state's ethics laws and adding, a little more pointedly, that he worked hard to help Republican members who found themselves in electoral trouble.

The actual election of a speaker takes place in January, usually on the first day of the legislative session. Two years ago, Straus upset House Speaker Tom Craddick — even after Craddick claimed to have enough votes to win re-election. Chisum's trying those same waters, hoping that the House is as unhappy with its incumbent today — if for different reasons — than it was after the 2008 elections.

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