Straus shrugs off critics, certain he’ll stay House speaker
GOP Rep. Phil King will challenge San Antonio Republican for position.
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.”
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.