Using $2.5 million in old campaign funds, former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus launches a PAC

A statement from the political action committee, called Texas Forever Forward, said, "Texas should embrace diversity and promote inclusive, non-discriminatory policies and laws."

Former House Speaker Joe Straus is using $2.5 million of his old campaign funds to fund the Texas Forever Forward PAC.
Former House Speaker Joe Straus is using $2.5 million of his old campaign funds to fund the Texas Forever Forward PAC.  Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he was launching a new political action committee that he said will aim to help him continue to carry out "a thoughtful, responsible approach to governing."

The group, Texas Forever Forward, will be chaired by Straus, who said in a news release he will contribute $2.5 million from his old campaign account to the new initiative. Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson will serve as treasurer of the group.

"We are launching this effort because I believe Texas needs leaders who are forward-looking and dedicated to bringing creative, problem-solving ideas to the new challenges our state faces as our population rapidly grows," Straus said in a statement. "It's time to unite Texas in civic participation and ensure our next decades are the very best in our long, proud journey."

Straus, who announced in 2017 he would not seek reelection to the Texas House, served a record-tying five terms as speaker. In recent years, his leadership often clashed with other Republicans who ranked more ideologically conservative than him.

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The 2017 legislative sessions were defined largely by the tensions between Straus and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who pushed heavily for a number of social issues, including one proposal to regulate which restrooms transgender people in Texas could use. Straus pushed back against the measure, which became known as the "bathroom bill," arguing it would have dire economic costs for the state should it pass.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Texas Tribune in November, Straus suggested that Texas Republicans, coming off an especially brutal election cycle for their numbers in the Legislature, needed to "broaden their agendas and offer a more optimistic vision for the future." He also waved off the idea that he may run for higher office in the future, saying that while he was receiving encouragement "from a lot of people around the state," it wasn't something he was currently thinking about.

Wednesday’s announcement keeps Straus’ name in the political arena as he leaves the door open to running for higher office in 2022, a person familiar with the former speaker’s thinking told The Texas Tribune.

Texas Forever Forward indicated it will support candidates and causes that align with Straus and his leadership style. A news release states that the group believes that "Texas should embrace diversity and promote inclusive, non-discriminatory policies and laws," and that "public education is our greatest economic development tool, and it’s critical to make meaningful, sustainable investments in Texas students."

It's unclear whether the group plans to wade into GOP primary races — which have been hotly contested in past elections between the centrist and more right-leaning factions of the party — and whether it will support only Republican candidates running for office in 2020. Straus said in an email to supporters Wednesday that he plans to communicate updates on the political action committee as the election cycle heats up.