“If God gives me the grace to see tomorrow, I’ll be so happy,” state Rep. Scott Turner told more than 100 people crammed into a La Quinta meeting room in downtown Austin on Monday.
Many in the crowd nodded. They all knew what was so special about tomorrow. At noon, a new legislative session would commence down the street at the Capitol, and the 150 members of the Texas House would vote for their speaker, choosing between two Republicans: Turner of Frisco, and the incumbent, Joe Straus of San Antonio.
A coalition of Tea Party groups organized Monday’s rally for Turner’s campaign to unseat Straus, whom those in attendance view as insufficiently conservative. Various conservative groups handed out literature critical of Straus. Pinned to the podium was a caricature of Straus at a slot machine, pulling out his waistband to accept the machine’s winnings.
Despite attendees’ enthusiasm, the race was over weeks ago. Well over 100 House members have publicly pledged their support to Straus, who needs only 76 votes to remain speaker for a fourth term. Straus has described those vying to unseat him as “a loud, very small minority, who have an interest in seeing that Texas becomes more like Washington, D.C.”
But as some House members unhappy with Straus put it Monday, getting all of their colleagues to make clear which speaker candidate they support will be a victory in itself. The Texas House hasn’t held a record vote on a contested race for speaker since 1975. Both Straus and Turner supporters have called for this vote to be on the record. Straus supporters say they want to show the size of Straus’ support. Turner backers say it’s about learning which Republicans choose to vote for Straus over Turner when given a clear choice.
“I’m proud that tomorrow, for the first time since anyone can remember, that we are actually going to go to the floor, get a vote, get a list of names, and hold every single person accountable,” state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said to cheers. “When we are unapologetically Christian conservative, we win.”
Yet some Turner supporters in attendance weren’t giving up hope. Many had plans to show up at the Capitol early Tuesday to pray in the Capital rotunda and rally lawmakers one last time.
Turner, a retired NFL player and current motivational speaker, promised that their efforts would not be in vain, framing his campaign as a pivotal moment in politics, not just for the state but the country.
“I think you can provide a sense of hope, and not just hope but encouragement, to the people of America,” Turner said. “And I think tomorrow will be a big start in that. How about you?”
The crowd responded with a hearty “yeah!”