Straus shrugs off crit­ics, cer­tain he’ll stay House speaker

GOP Rep. Phil King will chal­lenge San An­to­nio Repub­li­can for po­si­tion.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Julie Chang

A day after draw­ing an op­po­nent for Texas House speaker, state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio, said Satur­day he’s confident he will keep his role as speaker for a historic sixth term in 2019.

“I wouldn’t run for re-elec­tion if I didn’t think I’d have a lead­er­ship role,” Straus said, an­swer­ing a se­ries of ques­tions from Texas Tri­bune CEO Evan Smith dur­ing the Texas Tri­bune Fes­ti­val. Straus added that he is sure he has suf­fi­cient votes within the House Repub­li­can Cau­cus to se­cure the po­si­tion but wouldn’t sup­port shut­ting out Democrats in choos­ing the House speaker.

Straus’ lead­er­ship role has be­come ten­u­ous after the con­tentious sum­mer spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Straus butted heads with Repub­li­cans Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Ab­bott on cer­tain con­ser­va­tive is­sues, in­clud­ing ef­forts to crack down on trans­gen­der-friendly pub­lic bath­rooms, over­haul the school fi­nance sys­tem and en­act prop­erty tax re­form.

In re­cent weeks, more than 50 Texas Repub­li­can Party county com­mit­tees have ap­proved res­o­lu­tions ex­press­ing a lack of con­fi­dence in Straus and a de­sire to see the House Repub­li­can Cau­cus re­place him in the next ses­sion.

On Fri­day, Rep. Phil King, a 10-term Repub­li­can from Weather­ford, an­nounced he will chal­lenge Straus for speaker.

Straus said he had a short chat with King on Fri­day.

“He said ..., ‘I con­sider us to be friends.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ve seen this movie be­fore,’” Straus said.

Straus rat­tled off the House’s ac­com­plish­ments dur­ing this year’s reg­u­lar and spe­cial ses­sions, in­clud­ing reforms to the state’s trou­bled child welfare

Straus also notably helped thwart the so-called bath­room bill and a pri­or­ity Se­nate bill that would have used state money to help some pub­lic school stu­dents pay for pri­vate school tuition, though he didn’t char­ac­ter­ize his ac­tions as ac­com­plish­ments.

“I made my views very clear about (the bath­room bill) after hav­ing lis­tened to many faith lead­ers, lis­ten­ing to ed­u­ca­tors, lis­ten­ing to the law en­force­ment com­mu­nity and lis­ten­ing to the busi­ness com­mu­nity that fi­nally came to­gether very strongly, telling us that this would be an un­nec­es­sar­ily divi­sive and ex­tremely dam­ag­ing bill” to the Texas econ­omy, Straus said. “Not to men­tion the hu­man ... di­men­sion.”

Straus an­swered sev­eral other ques­tions Satur­day:

Are Texas Repub­li­cans at war with one an­other? “I do have a con­cern that our Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity could break into fac­tions that could hurt our abil­ity to main­tain a ma­jor­ity. I think that would be tragic.”

Do you not like Patrick? Does he not like you? What’s go­ing on? “He says he likes me, but it’s kind of hard to re­ally believe it.” Do you like him? “Yeah, sure, why not?”

After the spe­cial ses­sion, Ab­bott specif­i­cally called you out. He specif­i­cally called out the House. “As much as we re­spect and de­liv­ered on ma­jor pri­or­i­ties of the gover­nor, the House has pri­or­i­ties too. The House does not work for the gover­nor.”

Would you en­dorse Ab­bott for re-elec­tion? “Yeah, sure.”

The 12-mem­ber con­ser­va­tive House Free­dom Cau­cus sided with the Se­nate on many of its pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing on the bath­room bill and school fi­nance, call­ing Straus’ lead­er­ship into ques­tion. How do you feel about the Free­dom Cau­cus mem­bers? “I just wish they’d chan­nel their en­ergy to­ward more pos­i­tive and more pro­duc­tive pursuits.”

Why not use the rainy day fund now for Har­vey re­cov­ery? “No. 1, we don’t know what the state’s re­quire­ment is yet. And No. 2, in the short term, there’s some flex­i­bil­ity in the ex­ist­ing ap­pro­pri­a­tions. The gover­nor has over $100 mil­lion in his dis­as­ter relief fund. He has the author­ity to move money from agency to agency as needed in a way that we can back­fill later.”

Would you run for gover­nor some­day? “I am in­ter­ested in ... pub­lic of­fice or in pri­vate life help­ing solve the big chal­lenges that face this state.”

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATES­MAN

Texas Tri­bune CEO Evan Smith (left) poses ques­tions Satur­day to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus be­fore a packed house in Jessen Au­di­to­rium at Rainey Hall on the Univer­sity of Texas cam­pus in Austin.

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