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A Show of Strength, Either Way it Goes

A successful challenge to House Speaker Joe Straus would be a serious show of strength for outside activists. A big defeat, however, could undermine their influence just as the 2013 session begins.

Rep. David Simpson and Rep. Joe Straus are running for Speaker of the House.

If you go with the prevailing forecasts, Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, is comfortably on his way to a third term as speaker of the Texas House, and the groups outside the Legislature that have been promoting his opposition — Empower Texans and the Texas Eagle Forum, to name a couple of loud ones — could be on their way to a significant write-down of their political power. It could be the moment when Toto pulls the curtain back to reveal the wizard as a regular guy using a small machine to make scary pictures and loud noises and lots of smoke.

In case you got lost in the shopping mall since last week’s installment, here’s the catchup report:

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, is running for speaker.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, dropped his challenge (just a couple of days after telling a reporter he was “in it to win it” after being asked if he was planning to bail). He’s supporting Simpson.

And the speaker is unworried, saying he’s got the votes he needs. He’s also not showing them, which leaves him to take the heat but also gives his supporters cover while they calm local conservatives who’d like to see Straus demoted.

Some of what might have been the opposition is fragmented. Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who didn’t vote for Straus in 2011, told a group in her district this week that she’s on board with the speaker now.

Phil King, a conservative stalwart, was quoted in the Dallas Morning News questioning whether Simpson has the experience for the job and saying Straus appears to be in a very strong position for reelection. That's made him a target on AgendaWise, a conservative blog that previously held him in high regard.

The right is having a hard time finding something wrong with Straus that isn’t also a problem with people they support. He got elected with Democratic support; so would a challenger unless a bunch of Republicans change their minds. Straus helped balance the budget with accounting tricks. So did the governor and the lieutenant governor.

The speaker says he’s got the votes he needs, though fewer than three dozen members have put their names up for target practice. Simpson supporters say he’s “gathering momentum” — he has the public support of Hughes and himself.

The vote is on January 8.

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