Even as the Texas speaker re­signs, the bloc that elected him must re­main uni­fied.

Even as the Texas speaker re­signs, the bloc that elected him must re­main uni­fied.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

Things fall apart; the cen­ter can­not hold.

After in­di­cat­ing that he planned to stay on for an un­prece­dented sixth term as speaker last month, state Rep. Joe Straus has an­nounced that he will not run for re­elec­tion to his San An­to­nio seat in the Texas House.

When he steps down in 2019, Straus, a Repub­li­can, will have spent a decade as an un­likely icon of po­lit­i­cal mod­er­a­tion in Texas — tied for the long­est-serv­ing Speaker of the House. His time as leader in the state House be­gan with con­tro­versy over his Jewish faith — “Straus is go­ing down in Je­sus’ name,” one con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist wrote in an email — and ended with him as king bogeyman for Texas right-wing ide­o­logues.

In their po­lit­i­cal sto­ry­book, Straus was sin­gle­hand­edly re­spon­si­ble for hold­ing back the tide of rad­i­cal poli­cies that have be­come a sad lit­mus test in to­day’s Repub­li­can Party: bath­room bills, school vouchers, lo­cal bud­get caps, anti-im­mi­gra­tion ex­trem­ism, tree reg­u­la­tions, the list goes on.

But that’s just a story. The re­al­ity is that Straus has served as an apt em­bod­i­ment of his di­verse core con­stituency: business-ori­ented Repub­li­cans, ru­ral rep­re­sen­ta­tives and, yes, Democrats.

Un­like in Washington, D.C., where the speaker is se­lected by the party in power, the en­tire Texas House votes for the post. It is eas­ier for a broad-based coali­tion to win the speaker’s seat in Austin than one based in any po­lar­ized cor­ner. This has left Texas with a po­lit­i­cal puz­zle where mem­bers of the leg­isla­tive tri­umvi­rate rep­re­sent vastly dif­fer­ent au­di­ences.

Gov. Greg Ab­bott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick must ori­ent them­selves to win in statewide races — and more specif­i­cally, win in the Repub­li­can Party pri­mary. Straus only had to win in an elec­tion of 150 votes. And he won over­whelm­ingly each time, de­spite the fire and brim­stone threats com­ing from his Free­dom Cau­cus flank.

So when right-wing dem­a­gogues — more of­ten than not spon­sored by reclu­sive bil­lion­aire Tim Dunn — hung the speaker in rhetor­i­cal ef­figy or treated him as en­emy No. 1 in Austin, it was only be­cause Straus was a con­ve­nient scape­goat.

Straus step­ping may down, be but the coali­tion that he em­bod­ied can re­main strong in Austin and hold back the flood­wa­ters of ha­tred if it does not frac­ture in the next speaker’s race.

Their real tar­get was, and re­mains, a House ma­jor­ity that prefers to focus on the se­ri­ous business of im­prov­ing school fund­ing, em­pow­er­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments and us­ing state power to make Texas a bet­ter place to live, work and raise a fam­ily.

“Even as pol­i­tics has be­come more tribal and di­vi­sive, I’ve led by bring­ing peo­ple to­gether and work­ing across party lines,” Straus wrote in a let­ter an­nounc­ing that he would not run for a sixth term as speaker. “We’ve fallen short at times. But on our best days, we have shown that there is still a place for ci­vil­ity and states­man­ship in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.”

It may be tempt­ing to de­scribe those words as the swan song of a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can, but that would be in­ac­cu­rate.

In our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal

era, stand­ing for coali­tion­build­ing, di­ver­sity and op­ti­mism for our shared fu­ture is any­thing but mod­er­ate. Rather, it re­quires a rad­i­cal ad­her­ence

to a civic phi­los­o­phy that

stands on the verge of be­ing snuffed out by Trumpian anger. It re­quires stand­ing up to a move­ment

whose op­er­at­ing agenda re­mains pow­ered by the fear that some im­mi­grant or un­de­serv­ing other might get a bet­ter berth when a ris­ing tide lifts all the boats.

Straus may be step­ping down, but the coali­tion that he em­bod­ied can re­main strong in Austin and hold back the flood­wa­ters of ha­tred if it does not frac­ture in the next speaker’s race.

The weak point in this bat­tle likely won’t be Repub­li­cans. The risk is that Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tives will be peeled away with prom­ises of pow­er­ful com­mit­tee chairs. We re­mem­ber when then­state Rep. Sylvester Turner ended up on the Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board and as vice-chair­man of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee after he backed Straus’ Crad­dick. pre­de­ces­sor towns For the and sake busy as of speaker, cities; pub­lic for state schools the Rep. lo­cal in Tom lib­erty small em­bod­ied by city coun­cils and com­mis­sion­ers courts; for our col­leges and univer­si­ties; for crowded ports and bor­der cross­ings and gleam­ing sky­scrapers; for His­panic fam­i­lies and LGBT kids; for the sake of the en­tire state of Texas, the cen­ter must hold. We can­not let things fall apart.

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