Joe Straus’ rise to speaker: Right time, right place


Joe Straus was an affable two-term legislator who was suddenly, and surprisingly, elevated to House speaker.

San Antonio Republican vowed to heal a fractured House.

Joe Straus didn’t seem destined to become the most powerful member of the Texas House when opportunity knocked in 2009.

He was polished and affable with a solid Republican pedigree, but Straus was also a two-term legislator with a modest record of accomplishment — a known pro-business moderate in a political climate that favored strong conservatives.

Blood was in the water at the end of the 2007 session, when then-Speaker Tom Craddick’s autocratic style prompted an unsuccessful coup attempt, but Craddick’s fate was sealed when the next election left Republicans with only a two-seat majority heading into the 2009 session.

Straus was one of about a dozen ABC Republicans — Anybody But Craddick — who met privately in early January 2009 to anoint a single candidate to back. Nine of the ABCs vied to be the group’s consensus candidate, all of them better known and longer serving than Straus, but participants later said the strongest candidates canceled each other out, allowing Straus to emerge as the surprise victor on the third ballot.

RELATED: Straus will bow out as speaker, ushering in new era in Texas politics

When the group emerged from Rep. Byron Cook’s Tarrytown home, reporters waiting on the front lawn were shocked at the choice of Straus, who hadn’t even served as a committee chairman.

But the ABCs emphasized that Straus had the ability to unify a sharply fractured House, particularly because he wasn’t a player in previous battles over Craddick’s leadership.

And, knowing Straus faced criticism because he couldn’t defeat Craddick without Democratic support, the ABCs played up his Republican roots. His mother, Jocelyn Straus, was a campaign official for Republican U.S. Sen. John Tower and the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, while her son served in the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and Bush and was a precinct chairman and a campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

“What I hope to be able to do is to change the subject, to move away from a speaker-centered House where every day the spotlight is on whose nose is out of joint, ” Straus said at the time. “I’m going to try to bring everyone together and improve the attitude in the House.”

When the session began, the San Antonio Republican was elected speaker without opposition.

In his first term as House leader, Straus beefed up the power of his appointed committee chairs and encouraged compromise when possible.

Herman: At Texas Capitol, the loss of a calm voice at a turbulent time

The Straus doctrine worked on the budget, which passed the House unanimously after dozens of partisan amendments — designed to force tough votes on both sides of the aisle — were pulled down by agreement.

Straus was less successful on the 2009 voter ID bill, a Republican priority that was killed by Democratic stalling tactics — incurring the wrath of social conservatives, which would be a constant theme of Straus’ time in office. Voter ID’s defeat also drew the ire of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, continuing the House-Senate feuds are a staple of every legislative session and setting the stage for Straus’ titanic confrontation with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over transgender bathroom policies, property taxes and other issues earlier this year.

A succession of social conservatives, deeming Straus too moderate, failed to oust him in the following sessions:

• Reps. Warren Chisum and Ken Paxton, now attorney general, withdrew their names before the 2011 vote.

• Reps. Bryan Hughes and David Simpson also dropped out when their bids failed to catch fire in 2013.

• Rep. Scott Turner, a tea party Republican, made history by forcing the first floor vote for speaker in four decades, but he fared no better, losing to Straus 127-19.

Straus, who also defeated a succession of GOP primary challengers who ran to his right, was unanimously re-elected speaker to start the 2017 session.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Man dead, child critically injured in East Austin crash, EMS says
Man dead, child critically injured in East Austin crash, EMS says

A man in his 20s died in an accident on FM 969 Saturday morning that also left a child with life-threatening injuries, Capt. Darren Noak of the Austin-Travis County EMS said. The child with the critical injuries and another child were taken by an ambulance to Dell Children’sMedical center, while two adults in their 50s were taken to Dell Medical...
Highs in the upper 90s expected for Memorial Day weekend in Austin
Highs in the upper 90s expected for Memorial Day weekend in Austin

It will be a sunny and hot Memorial Day weekend in Austin, starting off Saturday with a high temperature of 99 degrees and a heat index of 104, according to the National Weather Service. Highs will stay in the upper 90s through the holiday on Monday, so stay safe and keep hydrated if you are spending time outdoors. At night, the temperature will fall...
Community news: CodeNext hearings scheduled for Tuesday, Saturday

TRAVIS COUNTY DOWNTOWN AUSTIN CodeNext hearings scheduled The city of Austin is considering a comprehensive revision to the Land Development Code, called CodeNext, and the City Council will host public hearings at 10 a.m. Tuesday and Saturday at City Hall, 301 W. Second St. The code affects what, where and how much can be built in Austin. It covers...
Where to honor those who gave their all
Where to honor those who gave their all

No matter where you are in Central Texas, there will be a place nearby to remember those who died while serving the country’s armed forces. The following are among the places to go this Memorial Day weekend: TRAVIS COUNTY West Austin: World War II close assault re-enactments at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday at Camp Mabry, 2200 W. 35th St. East Austin...
PolitiFact: Death penalty is now only for those 18 and older
PolitiFact: Death penalty is now only for those 18 and older

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling keeps the 17-year-old who has admitted being the shooter at Santa Fe High School from facing the death penalty because he’s not 18. Still, a meme brought to our attention by readers suggests Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who is white, is getting some type of special treatment. It contrasts his case with that of an African-American...
More Stories