Hoping to see a debate between the candidates for speaker? A group of Tea Party organizations recently posed an identical set of questions to current Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and contender Ken Paxton, R-McKinney. The result is not really a debate, but it might be the closest we get.

The meeting with Straus occurred Monday. The next day, Paxton answered the same questions over the phone. Their answers were taken down and posted on the Austin Tea Party Patriots' website late Wednesday. The group says, "Since the conversations were not recorded, the answers are paraphrasings or summaries. Mr. Paxton made a few references regarding Mr. Straus’ record or position; we have not fact-checked those."


Question: Given that Texas will receive four new Congressional seats as a result of the 2010 census, what will be your primary objective in the re-districting process?

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Straus: I want to ensure that Texas will receive fair and legal re-districting that reflects the voters of Texas. A key will be compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Until the map data is released in February, I can’t predict what the districts will look like. 

Paxton: I want to get as many Republican seats as possible – at least three. I do not want an even split. Of course, we will need to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The actual map results will depend on the census.

Question: Given the new supermajority in the 82nd Texas legislative session, how will this impact your appointments to committee chairmanships?  How can you assure the people of Texas that the key committees in the Texas legislature are chaired by conservatives?

Straus: Obviously, the law prevents me from naming who the committee chairs will be.   But with at least 101 Republicans in the state House, there will be no doubt that that the committee chair appointments will reflect the will of the voters.  And we will clearly have more conservative committee chairs than in the prior session.  Even in the last session, when the effective number of both Republicans and Democrats in the state House was 74-74 (due to the lack of a vote by the Speaker and the illness of Rep. Keumpel), the number of Republicans in key committee chair posts exceed those held by Democrats.  Remember, half of the non-chair committee assignments are made automatically by House seniority, not by the Speaker’s discretion.

Paxton: I believe that Joe has already picked his chairpersons. [Tea Party Editor’s note:  Mr. Paxton did not allege that Mr. Straus had promised anyone a chair position – he merely said he thought Mr. Straus had already made his choices.] He is tied in to most of his chairs.  I can assure you that we will have conservative leaders, especially in the important committees. I don't know specifics. It won't be as many as Democrats as Joe has, although it is my understanding that Texas tradition provides for chairpersons from both parties.  The chairman of each committee has great power, even if the committee itself is packed with members from a different party.

Question: Are you in favor of an Arizona-style immigration law?

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Straus: First, let me point out that I have supported, through an amicus brief, Arizona’s right to govern itself as it sees fit in this area.  I do not think that the Arizona law is the best choice for Texas.  First, it could impose unwarranted burdens on our law enforcement personnel – those burdens should instead be borne by the federal government, which should be in charge of immigration issues.  Second, we need to do what’s needed to attract significant companies to bring their workforces here.  I do not want Texas to start pulling people over based on the color of their skin.  We don’t need to scare them away with laws that make it unattractive to move here because of the presumptions – wrong assumptions, but assumptions nonetheless – that the law is discriminatory.  I am clearly against Texas companies hiring illegal immigrants.  The companies that we are looking to attract will not hire them, either.  I am in favor of immigrations laws that make sense in Texas.  I just don’t think that a law just like the Arizona law is the answer.

Paxton: I think we can do better than the Arizona law.  Their law puts the burden on state law enforcement to do the federal government’s job though a state law.  We are, instead, working on a 287(g) program that will fund more agents - local police officers who will be able to do what ICE does. It makes sure we are able to remove illegal aliens from Texas. If we can fund this 287(g) program, we can detain and remove illegal aliens. We will be authorized to do it. We plan to find a way to not get into the legal issues faced by Arizona.  Sanctuary cities should not be allowed.

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