Editor's note: Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith's new podcast, Point of Order, will air routinely during the Texas legislative session, which begins in January. Listen to the pilot episode with outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus or subscribe on your Apple or Android device.
Outgoing Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday advised his counterpart in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to “listen more and talk less” during next year’s legislative session.
Patrick had something to say about that.
"[Straus] decided he wanted to continue to poke a finger in the eye of Greg Abbott, the president, myself and conservatives as he goes out the door, and I find that disappointing," Patrick told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday night in his first extensive interview since winning re-election Tuesday. "I wish him the best, and I thank him for his public service, but at the end of the day, it’s just clear he’s not much of a conservative — and it’s beginning to look like he’s not much of a Republican."
Patrick's remarks came in response to an interview between Straus and Tribune CEO Evan Smith for the Tribune's new podcast, Point of Order. During the interview, Straus, a Republican, called some of the rhetoric used by President Donald Trump “extremely divisive,” “dark” and “not unifying.” He also called for GOP leaders in the Legislature to “broaden their agendas and offer a more optimistic vision for the future."
Patrick was succinct in his assessment of Straus' remarks: “Listening to him, it sounds like he’s interviewing for a job on MSNBC."
During the 2017 legislative sessions, tensions between Straus and Patrick came to a head when they were unable to agree on a slew of issues, including how much to limit cities', counties' and special jurisdictions' abilities to raise property taxes — and, most controversially, a “bathroom bill” that would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans.
Patrick boasted Wednesday that his Senate passed its version of the 2018-2019 budget in a 31-0 vote, “meaning I got the most conservative member and most liberal member” on board. In comparison, he said, the House was “in disarray” and that Straus was uncommunicative with both him and Gov. Greg Abbott.
“I don’t think I had five phone calls with [Straus] that lasted longer than five minutes,” Patrick said. "I’m not being critical of him at all, but when he criticizes the Senate — it's laughable."
"When I see someone who writes an editorial in the Sunday papers about Republicans needing new leadership — where was he helping us?" asked Patrick. "He's sitting on $10 million [in unused campaign funds] and he lost 12 [Republican] House seats. There's no responsibility for that? He could've given them each $2 or $3 million. I mean, what's he going to do with the money?"
With Straus retiring from the House after five terms at the speaker's dais, Patrick wouldn't pick a favorite out of the already seven representatives vying to replace him in 2019.
“I don’t care who they chose,” he said. “I want someone I can sit down with and go to dinner with. I’ve never had dinner with Straus.”
During his interview Wednesday afternoon, Straus said he believed Tuesday night’s election results — where Democrats made significant gains nationwide and in Texas — might have been a direct rebuke of policies pushed by the Trump administration. Patrick pushed back on this, saying he believed Trump's appearance at a rally for incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Houston last month was "a major help to everybody."
Patrick, who defeated Democrat Mike Collier by single digits earlier this week, also said he believed Democrats voting straight-ticket — a move he's wanted to abolish in Texas since 2009 — were the main reason for his closer-than-expected margin of victory.
“I received 1.5 million more votes on Tuesday than I did four year ago. Mike Collier, like many people on the Democratic ticket, didn’t run a high-profile race and didn’t raise a lot of money, but they got a lot of votes,” he said. “Democrats went in ... and had no idea who they were voting for down the ballot. Part of it was that we lost some of that vote straight-ticket.”
Patrick said he found it “stunning” that the speaker admitted to crossing party lines this year rather than voting straight-ticket Republican. He also chided Straus for calling Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign against Cruz “energetic” and “positive.”
“[Straus] says Texas and the Republican Party are moving in the ‘opposite direction,’” Patrick said. “No. We’re moving opposite to Beto O’Rourke’s socialist policies. [Straus] won’t talk about who he voted for, but said he’s never split his ticket more so. Leaders of a party do not cross over on Election Day and vote for multiple members of the opposition.”
Patrick said Cruz's slim victory over O'Rourke was probably due to the challenger's massive fundraising haul. “First of all, when you have $70 million, you’re going to be a real threat in any race,” he said. O’Rourke also “had a chance to run all year long, pretty much, and Ted was doing the business of the Senate.”
“But I’ve got to give the guy credit,” Patrick said of O’Rourke. “He worked hard, and I don’t agree with anything he stands for. It scares me what he stands for. He’s one of the most progressive socialists in the Democratic Party. But ... he worked hard and created an image — which $70 million can do — and that’s why the race was close.”
Straus told the Tribune on Wednesday he looks forward to enjoying life in the private sector once his tenure in the House comes to a close this January.
But Patrick predicted otherwise.
“Some people think he'll take his $10 million, distance himself from the party so one day he can say, ‘You know, I just can’t be a member of this party anymore because they’re dark and they’re racist and they’re too conservative and they’re too divisive,’ and he’ll give all these reasons,” he said. “And in four years, he’ll take the $10 million and he’ll become a Democrat and he’ll run against Greg Abbott for governor.”
“That’s what some people think.”