Straus successor as speaker likely to cut a more conservative figure

Updated Oct 25, 2017
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee he chairs, filed the paperwork Wednesday to succeed Joe Straus as speaker of the House in the next session.

No sooner had Joe Straus announced Wednesday, seemingly out the blue, that he would be not seek re-election as a member of the House in 2018 and an unprecedented sixth term as speaker in 2019, than Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, let it be known that he had filed the paperwork to succeed Straus as speaker.

But Zerwas, a Straus loyalist who serves as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, might be a longshot in a contest that will favor someone more in the conservative ideological center among House Republicans, and not someone in the mold of Straus, who, while in the middle among all members of the House — Democrats and Republicans — was at the moderate extreme for a Republican.

While the choice of the speaker will be made by Republican and Democratic House members when the next session convenes in January 2019, there has been a concerted push among House conservatives, the state Republican Party and grassroots activists, to have the House Republican Caucus make its choice of speaker before it goes to the full House, and then apply pressure on all Republicans to stick with the caucus choice.

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They want to avoid the circumstance in 2009 when Straus deposed then-Republican Speaker Tom Craddick by gaining the support of 10 key Republican members and the Democratic minority.

“I think his successor will be chosen in caucus, so I think it will be someone who will give conservatives a seat at the table,” said Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, made up of the dozen most assertively conservative members of the House.

“But as far as names, I can only say that in these situations, it is always someone no one is thinking of at the outset of the process,” Rinaldi said.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, announced last month he planned to challenge Straus, and said Wednesday he remains all in.

Lots of other names have been bandied about. There’s Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who as Ways and Means chairman and speaker pro tempore of the Texas House of Representatives, has been a top Straus lieutenant but with a sharper edge and more conservative ideology. There’s Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, chairman of the House GOP Caucus, and Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the House Republican Caucus Policy Committee, and Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, who heads the Texas Conservative Coalition, among others.

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement asserting that, “As past speakers have been, the next speaker will be elected only with bipartisan support.”

But Straus’ departure may signal that that way of doing business is a relic of a bygone era.