Texas lawmakers shouldn't let the party caucuses choose the next speaker of the House, according to former Speaker Rayford Price. In a letter to House members shared with the media, he says the House could end up with a leader who has the support of less than half of them. And he urges them to ignore calls to elect the next speaker in caucus and then stick to the caucus decision when it comes to the floor.
Challengers to Speaker Joe Straus have called for a Republican Caucus meeting before next week's legislative session. The proposal, forwarded formally by Rep. Warren Chisum, a Pampa Republican who also wants to be speaker, would have the 101-member caucus vote and also agree that all of the members would vote for the caucus candidate when the matter goes to the full House.
That would lock out the Democrats, who have just 51 members.
But that's not the concern expressed by Price. He's worried that someone could win the caucus vote with 51 representatives. If the other Republicans agreed with that, the winner would be in office with the strong support of just over a third of the House — the 51 of 150 who supported that candidate in the caucus.
From his letter:
Fifty years ago this month I became a member of the Texas House. I served six terms as a member and was elected Speaker in 1972. I have either actively participated in or closely observed every Speaker’s election since 1961. During those 50 years, it has never been proposed that a political party caucus should have the authority to select a single nominee for Speaker of that party as is now being proposed.
At the time I was elected Speaker there were 139 Democrats, 10 Republicans and one vacant seat in the House. I received the votes of 68 Democrats and 9 Republicans for a total of 77 votes. My opponent received 65 votes, all Democrats. Six Democrats and one Republican did not vote. If we had been foolish enough to follow the proposed caucus procedure, I could have lost my election for Speaker even though I had the support of a majority of the members. If the six Democrats who did not vote in the election had voted in the caucus for my opponent, the caucus vote would have been 68 votes for me and 71 votes for my opponent thus eliminating me as a nominee for Speaker even though I had the support of a majority of the members.
This coming session there will be 101 Republican and 49 Democrat members. Under this caucus proposal, 51 Republican votes in the Republican caucus would have the ridiculous effect of electing the next Speaker even though 99 members may prefer someone else as Speaker.
I have no problem with the members of both political parties meeting in caucus before the session begins and discuss issues including who should be elected Speaker, if they so desire. However, a majority of a political caucus has no right or authority to direct how any member will cast his vote. That is the right and duty of each individual member. I cannot believe any member would agree to give up that right and duty as is being suggested.
I would urge you to follow the same procedure for nominating candidates for Speaker that has been used by the House for at least fifty years. You should be electing a Speaker of the Texas House not the Speaker of a political party as they do in Washington.