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Speaker Race: Simpson Praying, Hughes Staying

House Speaker Joe Straus has the votes to win reelection, according to his loyalists. But he's got a declared opponent and another in the wings, and they've got a month to work with.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, delivers a personal privilege speech at the end of the House session on June 29, 2011.

The Joe Straus faction claims the speaker has more than 100 supporters in the 150-member House — more than enough to win a third term as speaker — but they won’t release a list and prove it. It would be nice to shut up the opposition, they say privately, but it could make a target of everyone on that list, particularly those who are vulnerable to attacks from activists who don’t like the speaker.

Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, answers rumors that he is getting out of the race by doubling down — saying he’s in it to win it. And David Simpson, R-Longview, confirmed rumors of his interest, saying he is praying about whether to get into the race.

Straus doesn’t appear to be in trouble, for a couple of reasons. It’s not clear the antipathy against him is strong enough to prompt members to go shopping for a replacement, and it seems unlikely that the loudest of his foes could agree on the second thing: Who would be an acceptable speaker for their coalition.

The three things that have capsized past speakers — scandal (Gib Lewis), a partisan change in the House (Pete Laney), or a widely held bill of particulars or complaints about how the speaker operates (Tom Craddick) — don’t exist at the moment. The fundamental complaint against Straus is that he ousted a Republican speaker with a coalition built of a small number of moderate Republicans and a large number of Democrats. The people most likely to question that coup happen to be the loudest part of the Texas GOP right now.

But he ran a conservative House, once the voters raised the number of Republicans from 76 to 102 in the 2010 election, and high turnover there has left enough fruit on the trees to attract new friends — there are committee assignments to hand out that would otherwise go to top lieutenants from that original coalition. By the way, seven of the 15 Republicans who were on the first pledge list Straus produced in 2009 won’t be in the House when it convenes in January.

That’s the first part: To lose the job, a speaker has to be in deep doo-doo for some reason: crime, politics, management skills, whatever.

Even if Straus were to find himself in that kind of mess, his opponents would have to figure out how to build a coalition of complainers — a group that currently appears to be made up of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Who would they agree on as a replacement? What issues would they agree to leave alone? Tax increases? Voter ID? Some kind of split in committee chairmanships?

It’s a version of the coalition that got Straus elected and then vilified, but with a difference: the Republicans in his group were more moderate than some of their colleagues. The group that produces candidates like Hughes and Simpson is from the conservative end of the party — the end that’s farthest away from the Democrats they’d be recruiting.

Or do it this way: Could the Republicans on the right gather enough strength to get 76 votes out of their own caucus? Not enough of those folks seem irked enough at Straus to join the movement.

The vote is a month from now.

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