- Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
Back in October, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus surprised us by announcing he would not seek re-election to the House in 2018.
He left open the possibility — seemingly slim — that he’d run for something else sometime. So it was kind of another surprise in Austin on Saturday when he was the subject of voting.
Keeping his unbeaten record intact, Straus, R-San Antonio, prevailed in that vote as the State Republican Executive Committee honored him for his courageous display of independence and leadership at the House helm. The vote was an overwhelming 44-19 as the GOP committee amassed the two-thirds vote needed to approve the resolution.
The committee, of course, called it a censure. But what’s intended by some as a censure can be read by others as an honor. That’s the deal in this case as the committee singled out Straus for political courage.
In its censure resolution, the committee’s members said Straus had taken three or more actions “in opposition to the core principles” in the Texas GOP platform.
I guess that’s one way of describing what Straus did. Another way would be to say Straus properly represented the people who sent him to Austin and, in his eyes, did what he thought best for all Texans. Seems like a reasonable thing for an elected official to do.
He also properly exercised authority. Seems like a reasonable thing to do with authority, though Straus upset some Republicans by doing so to hinder misguided GOP efforts on abortion, school choice and bathroom attendance.
The state GOP committee’s action began at the local level in Straus’ hometown Bexar County Republican Executive Committee that got the ball rolling last month by voting to censure Straus because he “has abused the power of his office and taken over three actions during this current biennium that, cumulatively, are in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party of Texas.”
The Texas GOP platform is a 266-principle thing of wonderment, including:
• Calling for U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. and throwing the U.N. out of the U.S.
• Blasting climate change as “a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives.”
• Backing a return to the “precious metal standard for the United States dollar.”
• Supporting repeal of the minimum wage law.
• Declaring “Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible.”
Straus’ response to the censure came via spokesman Jason Embry who said his boss “expected these antics from some people when he opposed their bathroom bill and helped prevent the harm it would have brought to our state.”
“He is proud to have represented the views of mainstream Texas Republicans who have voiced overwhelming support for the speaker’s principled leadership on many issues,” Embry said. “Speaker Straus will continue working to support traditional Republican principles and re-elect Republicans who put their constituents first.”
While the censure played well in the room in which it was approved, it drew appropriate scorn elsewhere. Former Texas GOP Deputy Executive Director Chris Elam tweeted: “The Texas GOP didn’t even censure Robert Morrow — it’s jaw dropping how far that organization has slipped in such a short time.”
You remember Morrow. If not, look him up. And please be advised he is running for GOP chair in Precinct 212 here in Austin.
Jennifer Waisath Harris, a consultant who had served in several GOP-run state agencies, tweeted thusly: “1. Grabbing women by the p——; 2. Advocating spousal rape; 3. Harassing every mosque in TX; 4. Using taxpayer $ to get your Jesus shot; and 5. Opposing the bathroom bill. Only one of these things will cause the SREC to censure you.”
To be accurate, the State Republican Executive Committee’s censure was based on more than Straus’ opposition to the bathroom bill. But Harris’ point is spot on.
So was this in an Embry tweet: “15,741 43.”
Forty-three is the number of votes needed for approval of the censure resolution. Straus got 15,741 votes in easily defeating two challengers in the 2016 GOP primary and then was unopposed in the 2016 general election. At the start of the 2017 legislative session, he was re-elected, 150-0, by his House colleagues to a record-tying fifth term as speaker.
Though some cranky Republicans see Straus’ departure as a good riddance that will benefit their party, it’s clear he’s had a good ride that has benefited our state. And the GOP committee’s censure is a reminder that Ronald Reagan’s dream of a GOP big tent is being sacrificed in favor of more of a pup tent.
And it sometimes seems the Texas GOP tendency is more big top than big tent.
Congratulations to Straus for the resolution noting his willingness to do what he thinks is right. We could use more like him.