PolitiFact: Opposition aplenty within GOP to Straus

Before Texas House Speaker Joe Straus disclosed that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2018, a group declared that activists accounting for more than half the state’s Republican electorate had called for House leaders to skedaddle.

The New Leadership PAC introduced itself in an October press release stating: “NLP is the culmination of discussions among a growing movement of organizations, leaders and voters across the state. Evidence of the need for NLP is illustrated by the passage of resolutions demanding changes in House leadership by 54 (and growing) of Republican party county chapters that together represent over 50 percent of Texas Republican voters.”

We wondered if resolutions demanding changes won widespread adoption as described.

The PAC’s release didn’t single out House leaders by name. But the PAC’s treasurer, Don Dyer of Austin, responded to our request for factual backup by listing 56 of the state’s 254 counties under the headline, “Texas County GOP’s Voting to Oust Straus,” the San Antonio Republican in his record-tying fifth two-year stint as speaker. House members fill the gavel-wielding leadership post from among themselves at the start of each regular legislative session.

We unsuccessfully sought more information from Dyer, who told us whoever composed the list didn’t want to be identified. Dyer also didn’t provide copies of the referenced resolutions or the details of each chapter’s proclaimed action.

We started our independent look into this claim by asking the Republican Party of Texas about such actions by local parties. Spokesman Jamie Bennett replied that county parties “act autonomously and are not required to submit resolutions to the state party. Therefore, I do not have any list of all relevant resolutions. The best way to get that info would be to contact county chairs individually.”

We didn’t have the resources to check all the counties listed by Dyer. But our reporting — based on interviews of local party officials plus news stories and web posts by county parties and Empower Texans, a group long intent on banishing Straus for his resistance to its agenda — showed that anti-Straus resolutions were approved by executive committees of Republican parties in at least 19 counties.

Included in the list were the eight counties accounting for the highest vote totals in the state’s latest GOP primary, in March 2016 — Harris, Tarrant, Dallas, Bexar, Collin, Denton, Montgomery and Travis counties.

Also, you can make a case that the 19 county parties represent more than half the state’s Republicans. That is, state-posted election returns show the 1,498,383 people who voted for president in those counties made up 53 percent of the 2,836,488 Texans who voted for president in the party’s statewide primary. About 1.4 million Texans voted in the Texas Democratic presidential primary.

In July 2017, Bexar County Republicans led the way by adopting a resolution by 36-28 calling for “a change in leadership in the Texas House speakership.” That happened, in Straus’ home county, just before lawmakers began a special session on 20 topics designated by Gov. Greg Abbott including Abbott’s desire, successfully resisted by Straus, for a public-school bathroom law targeting transgender people.

Like others, the Bexar County resolution says the House’s leadership should change due to Straus’ failure to support the party’s platform. The latest platform, adopted by Texas GOP activists in 2016, spells out positions that nominees are expected to champion — among them, an end to the direct election of U.S. senators; abolition of about 10 federal agencies; passage of federal legislation remanding all authority over abortion to individual states—and, at the state level, “enactment of legislation addressing individuals’ use of bathrooms, showers and locker rooms that correspond with their biologically determined sex.”

By a show of hands, precinct chairs for the Travis County Republican Party approved a resolution Sept. 12 calling for a change in the House speaker due to Straus’ “non-support” of the party platform, the county party says on its website. The resolution said Straus had “consistently denied the House the opportunity to act decisively upon conservative policies supported by Texas voters.”

In Williamson County, in contrast, party leaders rejected an anti-Straus resolution by 31-14, the party’s chairman, Bill Fairbrother, told us. Fairbrother recalled debate about whether the move would hurt the county among lawmakers. Fairbrother said of Straus, “There’s a lot of respect for him here.”

Our ruling:

The PAC said county parties representing more than half the state’s Republican voters approved resolutions demanding changes in House leadership.

The group fell short of proving its claim. But we identified 19 counties, arguably accounting for more than half the voters in the state’s 2016 Republican presidential primary, where local party leaders approved calls this year for Speaker Straus to go.

We rate this claim True.

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