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Straus Opponents Active at GOP Convention

House Speaker Joe Straus, booed at the Republican state convention two years ago, is bracing for another chilly reception from the GOP faithful on Friday.

By Morgan Smith, The Texas Tribune, Ben Philpott, KUT News, and Jay Root, The Texas Tribune
Mike Zapp of Burleson, TX holds an "Oust Straus" sticker at the Tea Party booth at the state Repulblican Convention on June 7, 2012.

FORT WORTH — House Speaker Joe Straus, booed at the Republican state convention two years ago, is bracing for another chilly reception from the GOP faithful.

"Oust Straus" stickers can be seen on the lapels and blouses of his opponents, who have had a vocal presence at the biennial gathering of the state Republican party. And Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is waging an active campaign against Straus, has set up a booth and is distributing campaign literature here.

"We call him a RINO [Republican In Name Only], but I think he's really a Democrat in Republican's clothing," said Freda Adams, a delegate from Johnson County who is supporting Hughes.

Her complaint encapsulates the widely held view of Straus among conservative activists: that he is a leader elected by the party's moderate wing with the help of Democrats, and that he stood in the way of their pet initiatives aimed at cracking down on immigration and airport pat-downs. Many abortion opponents also question his commitment to their cause, noting Straus' past ties to Planned Parenthood — including a $1,000 campaign contribution he received from the group in 2008.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

Straus is not without supporters in the conservative crowd, though they are less visible. They include delegate Dixie Clem, who founded the Collin County Republican Party headquarters in 1968 and knew Straus' mother, Joci Straus, when they both served on the state Republican executive committee. 

Clem scoffs at what she perceives as a new generation of GOP youngsters who question Straus' Republican credentials, saying "his mother was a Republican before they were born." Clem also rejects any notion that Straus isn't conservative enough, and said the speaker has drawn opponents because of his independence. 

"They can't lead him around, and they want someone they can tell what to do," she said.

Straus, scheduled to address delegates on Friday afternoon, has had a target on his back since he ousted Tom Craddick of Midland to take the post in 2009. Then, like now, conservative activists didn't think Straus was one of them.

Alice Linahan, the founder of the new media consulting group Voices Empower, passed out anti-Straus stickers at her exhibition booth on the floor on Thursday. Conservatives have coalesced around Hughes, she said, calling him the only candidate so far to stand up to Straus. 

Hughes says he thinks the House could be run more efficiently, and that Straus hasn't shown enough leadership on anti-abortion issues. 

"The House could be run a lot differently," he said. "We need to be good stewards of the taxpayers' time and money."

The two-term speaker says he’s plenty conservative. He easily defeated a Tea Party-backed challenger in his own district in the May primary and got endorsements from top anti-abortion activists.

Straus spokesman Jason Embry said the speaker is not worried about losing the support of the people who hold his fate in their hands — the members of the Texas House. The next speaker's election won’t be held until January, well past the November general election. 

“The speaker is focused on getting to know the new House candidates and the fall campaign, but most of all he is focused on preparing for the work of the session, including important issues like the economy, education and infrastructure,” Embry said. “He doesn’t think that Republicans spending a lot of time campaigning against each other is helpful.”

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