Straus Re-elected House Speaker Over Tea Party Challenger

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus listened to a Jan. 13, 2015, speech by a fellow member nominating him for another term as speaker.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus listened to a Jan. 13, 2015, speech by a fellow member nominating him for another term as speaker.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

With the backing of 85 percent of the Texas House, San Antonio Republican Joe Straus on Tuesday was re-elected to his fourth term.

Straus drew 128 votes for re-election against challenger state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, who drew 19 votes. Turner had worked for the last year campaigning to unseat Straus with the backing of a coalition of Tea Party and conservative groups, all of whom viewed Straus as insufficiently conservative.

“Leading up to this day, a small number sought to divide us with misleading and personal attacks,” Straus said after being sworn in as speaker. “But you can not effectively govern this House by dividing it.”

Addressing a House chamber packed with representatives and their family members and guests, as well as Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, Straus made a veiled reference to conservative groups such as Empower Texans, which have become a fixture in Republican primaries by promoting scorecards that rank lawmakers on their conservatism. Straus supporters have described some of the rating systems as misleading.

 

“This House belongs to no special interest, no single interest. It belongs to almost 27 million Texans, all of the people we represent, and their scorecard is the only one that matters,” Straus said, prompting a standing ovation from a majority of House members.

In a speech after losing his bid for speaker, Turner expressed concerns that his House colleagues lacked proper ambition to truly improve the state, suggesting that his challenge of the House leadership was an effort to change that.

“The chains of complacency and the shackles of status quo have got to be destroyed,” Turner said. “We cannot allow good to be the enemy of great.”

With his election to a fourth term as speaker, Straus has now served longer than his predecessor, Republican Tom Craddick of Midland, who served three terms. He’s also served longer than every other previous Speaker in the state’s history save for three: Pete Laney and Gib Lewis each served five terms, and Bill Clayton served four terms.

Straus outlined several legislative priorities for the session, including combating the state’s “dreadful traffic” and providing “sensible but meaningful tax relief.”

Straus also said the House would “work to end abuses by those who grant and receive state contracts,” a reference to the mushrooming scandal at the Health and Human Services Commission over no-bid contracts.

“Using taxpayer resources for personal gain will not be tolerated,” Straus said. “This House should lead by example, holding ourselves to the highest ethical standards and remembering that public service is about the public.”

Turner cited border security as a "top priority" for the session.

 

"It’s a war zone, and protecting the lives of our citizens is not a Republican or a Democratic issue,” Turner said.

Prior to the vote, eight House members made speeches — four for Straus and four for Turner.

Straus supporters praised his steady hand and the chamber’s list of accomplishments over the past six years.

“We enjoy a history like no other state and a trajectory like no other state. We operate the 12th-largest economy in the world,” said Four Price, R-Amarillo, who officially nominated Straus for another term. “That, members, has not happened by accident, and I’m proud of the gains that Texas and this House have made since 2009 under his leadership.”

In a speech supporting Straus, state Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, cited the state’s new leadership and the dropping price in oil as reasons why the House shouldn’t elect a new speaker.

“We could again be navigating uncertain seas,” Oliveira said. “Now more than ever, we need a seasoned skipper at the helm.”

In nominating Turner, state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said Turner had the natural talent to unite the House and move it in a fresh direction.

“Scott Turner truly is a servant of servants and a leader of leaders,” Leach said. “Each of us will be challenged to focus not on partisan politics but the needs and the desires of people who sent us here to serve.”

Addressing concerns that Turner, who has one term under his belt, lacks the experience to be speaker, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, noted that Abraham Lincoln served just two years in Congress before becoming president.

“It wasn’t the longevity that counted,” Krause said. “It was the leadership that he exuded.”

In addition to Leach, Krause and Turner, the members who voted for Turner were Republican state Reps. Rodney Anderson, Dustin Burrows, Pat Fallon, Bryan Hughes, Mark Keough, Stephanie Klick, Matt Rinaldi, Scott Sanford, Matt Schaefer, Matt Shaheen, David Simpson, Stuart SpitzerJonathan Stickland, Tony Tinderholt, Molly White and Bill Zedler.

Almost a year ago to the day, Turner launched his bid for speaker. Early on, he told members that he planned to keep his campaign going until the vote for speaker on the first day of the session, regardless of whether the race was still considered competitive. Before Monday, the House had not held a contested vote for Speaker since 1975

His campaign drew the support of Tea Party activists from across the state, as well as the support of the executive committees of more than 10 county Republican parties.

Dozens of Turner supporters showed up to the Capitol on Tuesday to support his bid for speaker, many clad in white T-shirts. In his speech supporting Turner, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, praised Turner for getting Texans involved and invested in the vote for speaker.

“The people, now educated, will not simply surrender their voices, and this is a good thing,” Sanford said.

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