Soap operas have nothing on the race for Speaker of the Texas House. And while Joe Straus has been reelected, the drama will no doubt continue. How will Straus treat the “fearless fifteen”? Will the LRB seek revenge on Paxton and his allies? Will Ken Paxton have a district after redistricting? Will Straus raise taxes to balance the budget? Will he push for legalized gambling? Will he be indicted? Who is recruiting primary opponents against whom? Are there any political consultants left who are not on Straus’ payroll?
When Ken Paxton announced as a candidate for Speaker, he was derided as a long shot, which was understandable considering that Straus had locked up a large majority of pledges. He was running as the people’s conservative candidate, and in the view of his supporters it was not so much about winning as it was about flushing out the Republicans. After all, the GOP has the votes to push a strong agenda. No excuses. Why elect a Speaker who is beholden to Democrats?
And if all conservatives had hung together, worked as a team, the pressure on those state reps willing to cede control to Democrats would have been intense. But it was not to be.
The power of the Speaker of the Texas House is a highly coveted possession. Egos got in the way of teamwork. In the end, it seems that some Straus foes decided that if they couldn’t be the candidates, then neither could Paxton.
Warren Chisum ran for speaker, but you might not have noticed. In speaking to my own state representative, Jim Jackson, it seemed that even some of Warren’s closest friends, as Jim is, wouldn’t support Chisum for Speaker. Paxton supporters were hopeful that Chisum was working with Paxton to form a strong anti-Straus coalition that would be united when it came time to choose the strongest candidate. Reportedly, Paxton and Chisum supporters had such a meeting. Paxton was ahead in pledges and enthusiasm, but Chisum refused to bow out. And as the vote grew closer, Chisum was all over the map. He went from candidate, to supporting Paxton, to nominating Paxton, to ultimately voting for Straus. Huh? What did Warren Chisum get for his support?
After the GOP Caucus meeting, Representative Wayne Christian spoke to the activists who were gathered in Austin. He told of Joe Straus’ manipulation of state rep campaigns across the state, of consultants who acted as “double agents” and who took money from Straus to influence candidates without the candidates’ knowledge. It seems that Joe Straus had the election covered from all angles, and there are currently at least two investigations being undertaken at the TEC.
Paxton supporters descended on the Capitol, wearing t-shirts, carrying signs, and vowing to hold their representatives accountable. Paxton, the night before the vote, announced that he was still in the running, despite the GOP caucus “vote.” Because it was not a secret ballot, the fear of retaliation cost Paxton votes. Insiders say that the caucus was manipulated; no big surprise there. But it was definitely a surprise when, moments before the session was to begin, Paxton decided to withdraw his candidacy. Who persuaded Paxton to drop out? Certain names have been mentioned, including some prominent conservatives. What about the grassroots? How did his withdrawal affect the final vote? We’ll never know the answer to that question.
In the end, the entire experience left activists, tea partiers, conservatives, and even some Paxton insiders bitterly disappointed. The good news is that the record vote for speaker was not unanimous, and fifteen representatives voted in protest against Speaker Straus. The candidate of the people may not have prevailed, but voters can now judge how their elected representative chose to handle this situation, and whether that representative deserves their support in the future. And that may be the most important reason for a Speaker’s race – because it all happens again in two short years.