Conservative activists want new Texas speaker
By JAY ROOT Associated Press © 2011 The Associated Press
Jan. 3, 2011, 6:44PM
AUSTIN, Texas — Conservative activists are pressuring Republican Texas lawmakers to dump one of their most powerful elected officials, House Speaker Joe Straus, with a week to go before the start of the Legislature‘s 2011 session.
The Texas Eagle Forum, which advocates for socially conservativepositions on issues such as gay rights and abortion, sent out a letter Monday calling on lawmakers to vote against Straus when the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 11. Eagle Forum President Pat Carlson said Straus is too moderate for the lopsided GOP majorities in the Legislature.
She also said the group will keep close track of how legislators vote in the speaker’s race.
“Unfortunately, Speaker Straus is not a conservative,” Carlson said. “Anyone who says otherwise was not paying attention during the last legislative session or has not looked at Speaker Straus’ political associations and background or both.” Two conservative Republicans, Warren Chisum of Pampa and Ken Paxton of McKinney, are vying to replace Straus.
Asked for comment, Straus spokeswoman Tracy Young issued a statement saying Straus “is focused on the upcoming session and tackling the important issues, including passing a ‘no new taxes’ budget and cutting spending, that voters expect the Legislature to address.”
Last week, the anti-abortion Texas Alliance for Life endorsed Paxton for the speaker position. Straus has touted his own support from conservatives and says he has more than enough votes to be re-elected to a second term at the helm of the Texas House.
Chisum said many Republicans he has tried to peel away indeed tell him they plan to vote for Straus. But Chisum said many rank-and-file GOP activists want a more conservative leader in the chamber.
“I know a lot of them have just said they’re going to stick by and vote for Straus,” Chisum said. “But there still is a lot of hometown pressure going on and I don’t see it quitting anytime soon.”
Republicans control all statewide offices in Texas and in November the GOP fielded its largest majority ever in the Texas House of Representatives. After the election, two Democrats — Allan Ritter in East Texas and Aaron Pena in deep South Texas — defected and joined the Republican Party. That gave the GOP a 101-49 majority, enough votes to transact legislative business in the House even if the Democrats don’t show up.
Both Democrats and Republicans cast votes for speaker on the opening day of the session, and Straus was elected two years ago with a lot of Democratic votes.
As in 2009, there could be some drama before the session convenes. Many Republicans want the legislators they elected in November to pick a favored speaker candidate when the Republican caucus meets on Jan. 10, a day before the session begins. Straus opponents are hoping the caucus will produce a more conservative alternative at that meeting.