Vol 29, Issue 22 Print Issue

After a Win, a Combative Speaker

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, smiles at the end of a press briefing May 30, 2012 at his Capitol office.
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, smiles at the end of a press briefing May 30, 2012 at his Capitol office.

House Speaker Joe Straus, coming out of a big and expensive win in a rare contested primary at home, began the runoff reboot by tweaking Michael Quinn Sullivan and his Empower Texans group, deriding them as ineffective, ugly and resentful of his success.

Where's this guy been? And why is popping off now?

Sullivan's response was that Straus ought to be listening to the voters who spat out three of his committee chairs and sent two more into runoffs, who elected small government conservatives when that was the choice in front of them and who is probably smiling that Straus gave him a new set of comments to throw into his fundraising and recruitment letters.

Here, edited but at length, are Straus' comments about Sullivan, made to a group of reporters gathered in his office the day after the election:

"I got to know him pretty well in my own district. He pretty much dropped the subtleties, I would say. He and his friend in Midland and another group out in Beaumont spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, sent dozens of attack mailers into my district. It was personal. It was ugly. It was ridiculous, really, when you look at the reality and at the charges they made. I had faith in the voters in my district. They could see it was nothing but distortions and character assassination."

"I don't see a lot of teeth there, in his bite. I think he is very much out of touch with conservatives. He's certainly out of touch with the conservatives that I represent."

"He was spectacularly unsuccessful. And frankly, I don't consider him much of a factor. It's a lot of noise... His biggest problem with me is that I keep succeeding. We've got a conservative House here and he's not part of it."

"He doesn't have any influence here."

"If he wants to participate in the political process, he should file and run for office, but I don't suspect he would ever do that. He'd be as spectacularly unsuccessful himself as he was taking on me."

The speaker is providing publicity for a foe who thrives on it, but he's also throwing a punch at the beginning of a nine-week runoff period in which Sullivan and his band of merry men will be campaigning against people like those two remaining Straus chairman on the ballot, Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, and Sid Miller, R-Stephenville. [Editor's note and correction: Empower Texans supports Miller's reelection and has endorsed him. They have said, too, that the number of chairmen in trouble — including Miller — ought to be taken as a measure of support for Straus himself.] There are other arenas for the fight, with 17 House races on the runoff ballot, 13 of them on the Republican side, four of those featuring incumbents.

And there's the session itself, with another battle looming at the start. Empower Texans and other outside groups rallied conservatives against Straus at the beginning of last session, but couldn't produce the votes to oust him. They worked hard against his reelection this year, falling well short (he won handily against Matt Beebe). And with Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, jumping into the race for speaker this week, there is apparently more to come.