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Straus Warns That Internal Bickering Could Hurt Texas GOP

At the state GOP convention, House Speaker Joe Straus said Friday he was confident he would keep his job for the next session. And he indicated that Republicans could hurt themselves if they focus only on demanding ideological purity.

House Speaker Joe Straus holds a press briefing at the Omni Hotel, Fort Worth on June 8, 2012.

FORT WORTH — House Speaker Joe Straus, under fire from conservative activists who want to replace him, confidently predicted Friday that he would keep his job and warned that the internal bickering among Republicans could undermine the GOP’s firm grip on Texas politics.

The division within the GOP has been on display since its state convention opened Thursday with a speech from Gov. Rick Perry. When the governor mentioned Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's name, the crowd erupted in boos. The name of presidential candidate Mitt Romney also elicited scattered catcalls.

“It’s disappointing when our party’s leaders or even those who are contenders to be party’s leaders are booed,” Straus told reporters. “But there are no flags for unsportsmanlike conduct at political conventions. Hopefully behavior is good, and people will act like gentlemen and gentle ladies here.”

Straus has faced a particularly harsh receptions from conservative activists. They are circulating “Oust Straus” stickers and urging support for Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is running against him. But rumors of a major walk-out during his remarks never materialized, and delegates were mostly well behaved during the speaker's brief remarks.

He spoke for only about three minutes and stood on stage with fellow Republican House members and candidates. Straus was greeted with applause and cheers when he recounted the conservative triumphs of the 2011 legislative session.

"Whether it was passing Voter ID into law, enacting tort reform or eliminating a $27 billion shortfall without raising taxes, your conservative Texas House has delivered,” Straus said. The speaker, who once got a donation from Planned Parenthood, also hailed the 2011 gathering of Texas lawmakers as "the most pro-life session in the history of Texas.”

The Legislature last year passed a strict law requiring women to undergo sonograms before having an abortion.

A few scattered cries of "Oust Straus" could be heard in the convention hall a few times during Straus' speech, but it didn't disrupt him or drown out an otherwise enthusiastic reception.

Straus gave a far more lengthy talk to reporters before his speech, and he said he still had broad support from his fellow House members — the small pool of voters that will select the next speaker in January.

Choosing his words carefully, Straus indicated that Republicans could endanger their dominant position in Texas by demanding ideological purity and pushing politicians to take extreme positions. He said that’s what happened to the Democrats.

“I’ve witnessed and benefited really from the demise of the Democratic Party in Texas as they ceded the center and they moved so far to the left at the national level that it made it easy for Texas Democrats to become Republicans,’’ he said. “But we have to be mindful that we represent more than just kind of the edge.”

He said Republicans should stay focused on major priorities like transportation, education and sound economic policies.

“If we start ignoring the things that we need to do and focus only on the things that we’re against, that will be a gigantic opening for our opposition, and I don’t want to see that happen,’’  he said. Straus declined to name any specific issues that were divisive, saying it was more about “an attitude” than a particular legislative initiative.

Straus, who spoke to reporters at the Omni Hotel, also rejected Perry’s “Texas Budget Compact,” saying he doesn’t need to sign any papers to enact conservative policies. Perry has been urging legislators to support the compact and pledge to keep spending low and oppose all tax increases.

“I have a record of cutting taxes and lowering spending,” Straus said. “I didn’t need to sign a contract to do that.” Straus said he considered the pledging an “outsourcing” of his authority as a politician and didn’t need an “outside group to enforces what I already believe.” 

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