We’ve reached a point in the soap opera known as the Texas House Speaker’s Race in which it's tough to track the many characters and their connections — so we bring you this definitive flowchart to help make sense of it all.
To keep his powerful post, current Speaker Joe Straus is actively campaigning for the support of House members who vote to elect their leader. Speakers control the agenda of the lower chamber by selecting powerful committee chairmen, who can let legislation reach the floor for vote or die a slow death. In recent weeks, at least two of Straus’ fellow Republicans have emerged as challengers, questioning whether he's conservative enough to hold the post, and the involvement of sundry outside interests make for an increasingly tangled and controversial web.
As the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee prepares to hold a hearing over alleged threats made against a member who ultimately bolted from Team Straus, our handy interactive allows you to see how the drama has unfolded to this point. To use it, click on any box to learn more about the featured player. Share on Twitter and Facebook.
As of Nov. 17, Straus said he had the pledged support of 122 members, far above the 76 votes needed to secure the speakership. In past speaker selections, advance pledges have been enough to prevent a battle on the House floor. In recent years, promised pledges from members have become less solid, giving speaker’s races a more unstable edge.
The East Texas lawmaker is supporting Paxton and withdrew his support for Straus after alleging that someone from Straus’ team called him with a threat: that if returning Republicans did not support Straus, redistricting maps would be drawn to guarantee the disloyal members wouldn’t be re-elected. Straus has denounced any threats of the sort and called for an investigation by the ethics panel (see box).
Eighteen Republican committee chairmen who were appointed by Straus in 2009 penned a letter to fellow members urging their support of the current speaker, saying that on issues of the budget, immigration and voter ID, they had, in Straus, an “ally on all these issues."
Hopson chairs the General Investigating and Ethics Committee. He has scheduled a hearing for today to address Bryan Hughes’ allegations of redistricting-themed threats from the Joe Straus camp. Young Conservatives of Texas has called on Hopson to recuse himself from the hearing because he accepted a $15,000 campaign contribution from Straus in February and a $14,500 campaign contribution in September.
Branch, a close ally and staunch supporter of Joe Straus, sent a letter to the House Republican Caucus leadership questioning the possible use of a straw poll within the caucus to select the next speaker. He especially expressed concerns about a potential lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the process. “We must be certain that a straw poll or caucus meeting does not conflict with constitutional or statutory law,” Branch wrote.
As a state senator, Patrick has no vote on who heads up the lower chamber. He hasn’t openly endorsed any of the candidates (though, he did recently host Ken Paxton on his radio show). In an attempt to play peacemaker, Patrick announced that he would host a private sit-down with all three candidates and grassroots conservatives on a neutral site in Austin on Nov. 23. Afterward, Joe Straus’ office said it had not agreed to any such meeting.
The former U.S. representative turned Tea Party leader, a Republican from Flower Mound, is the chairman of FreedomWorks, a national conservative grassroots organization. From that perch, he announced his endorsement of Ken Paxton, encouraging Texans to take advantage of “a great opportunity to have true fiscal conservatives as Speaker and committee chairmen in the Texas House.”
The fiscally conservative nonprofit group led by right-wing bomb-thrower Michael Quinn Sullivan has not endorsed a candidate for speaker. It has, however, launched a campaign to boost support for a “a change to a more conservative speaker,” as the group phrased it in an open letter originally signed by 130 representatives of the “conservative movement, tea party and Republican organizations.” More than 4,500 other Texans have since added their names.
A small group of incoming legislators — freshmen Cindy Burkett of Mesquite, David Simpson of Longview, Kenneth Sheets of Dallas, Charles Perry of Lubbock, Jim Landtroop of Plainview and returning member Bill Zedler of Arlington — have decided that the first thing they’d like to change at the Capitol is the speaker of the House. All six have thrown in with Ken Paxton.
The quiet, affable state lawmaker slayed the giant that was former GOP Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, with the help of “insurgent” Republicans and the Democratic caucus in early 2009. He is seeking a second term in the speaker’s chair. He led a largely amicable House last session, but challengers Ken Paxton and Warren Chisum argued that his chairman selections weren’t conservative enough and that a less moderate leader will push through a more conservative agenda.
Tea Party darling Paxton is about to begin his fifth term in the Texas House. When he entered the speaker’s race, he said the House has “a unique opportunity and an obligation to do more than simply balance the budget without raising taxes." His agenda includes permanently reducing property taxes, passing “true” immigration reform and voter ID, and reclaiming "our state sovereignty.” This week, he set up www.kenpaxtonforspeaker.com to rally support.
The two socially conservative GOP members were originally pledged to Joe Straus but in recent weeks have dropped off Straus’ list to favor Ken Paxton. Laubenberg’s North Texas district neighbors Paxton’s, and she sits on the leadership committee of the GOP caucus that will decide whether to hold a straw poll for speaker.
Among the most conservative members of the House, Berman was also considering a run against Joe Straus. He believes Straus “gave up his integrity at the beginning of last session when he made commitments to Democrats that there would be no bills on illegal aliens, no bills on pro-life and no voter ID bill." Straus has said he made no such promises. When Warren Chisum announced his candidacy, Berman opted to back him instead of launching his own bid.
The former Arkansas governor and potential 2012 presidential contender announced his endorsement of Ken Paxton on the blog for Huck PAC, his national political action committee. He wrote that Republicans have the duty to elect state house leaders who have the “knowledge, ability and relationships to create and push a strong conservative agenda.”
The once-a-decade redrawing of congressional and legislative lines came into play when Bryan Hughes said he got a call from an unnamed Joe Straus lieutenant threatening maps that would exclude or dissolve the districts of those who didn’t stick with Straus. Straus immediately called for an investigation of the alleged threat, which will be headed up by Rep. Chuck Hopson, the head of the House ethics panel.
Robocalls invoking Christianity and highlighting the fact that Joe Straus is Jewish have reportedly been made to GOP voters in multiple markets. One widely distributed e-mail of unknown origin says, “Straus is going down in Jesus' name." Both Warren Chisum and Ken Paxton have denounced the tactic and have denied any involvement.
Both challengers to Straus — Warren Chisum and Ken Paxton — have called for a House GOP caucus meeting to conduct a straw poll for speaker. The speaker has not rejected the idea, but his lieutenant, Dan Branch, has questioned the legality of holding such a speaker selection behind closed doors. The idea appears to be out of fashion for now, after caucus Chairman Larry Taylor announced that there was not enough support among the members to hold such a meeting.
The former appropriations chairman under ousted GOP speaker Tom Craddick wants the top job, and he wants Republicans to choose the speaker in a private caucus vote. Most recently, aligned himself with Paxton — both said they were united in their effort to defeat Joe Straus. Chisum was responsible in 2007 for circulating a memo saying that teaching evolution in public schools "is causing incalculable harm to every student and every truth-loving citizen" but has has distanced himself from the religious-tinged attacks.
This nonprofit conservative youth organization publicly questioned state Rep. Chuck Hopson’s involvement in the investigation of Bryan Hughes’ accusation that a member of Joe Straus’ leadership team threatened reprisals against members who did not support the incumbent. The group, which has endorsed Ken Paxton, claims that Hopson is too tied to Straus because he accepted campaign donations from the speaker.
Click the boxes
to see each person's
or group's involvement.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.