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Gavel Hunt Is Go

GOP eats its own in House speaker struggle

By Richard Whittaker, 9:00AM, Fri. Nov. 12, 2010

Speaker Straus (l), Paxton and Chisum: The target fires back
Speaker Straus (l), Paxton and Chisum: The target fires back

Remember 2009, when a coordinated and well-organized coup d'etat removed Rep. "Smilin'" Tom Craddick, R-Midland, as speaker? Well, it's another session, another civil war, as the most extreme ends of the Republican party inside and outside the House chamber try to remove Speaker Joe Straus.

Beginning of last week, the situation was pretty clear: The Republican Party of Texas had taken the House, and was going to pick the new speaker at the beginning of the next session. Straus had already confirmed he wanted to run again, and Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, was his first filed challenger. That's when the deluge of backbiting, infighting and bloodletting began.

For those keeping score, here's a handy timeline of the cut and thrust:

Nov. 5

5.25pm A new group, Conservatives for Joe Straus, sends an open letter to its members and (here's the odd bit) the Texas Tea Party Republican Women googlegroup. The body draws heavily from the State Republican Executive Committee. Stressing Straus' 2007 dismantling of the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fee, and the fact that he's basically echoed every anti-tax, pro-spending cut missive out of the governor's office, the group praised "the record of a true conservative – someone who has fought to save you money and control the size of government, and someone who has fought to protect the vulnerable in our society."

5.26pm Straus sends his own letter to members and members-elect. While he doesn't tackle the challenges directly, he includes this passage:

A speaker should not be heavy-handed and impose his philosophy on the members, instead the speaker’s agenda should always be the agenda of the House as a whole. That is exactly how a representative democracy should work, and it is how I have led since being elected speaker two years ago.

Nov. 8

Morning: Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, confirms his reputation as the ill-tempered king of the screaming fit by attacking Straus' supporters as demmycrats and RINOs, who are "all looking for something for themselves and will compromise their integrity for personal gain."

8.10pm Even though he's not named in the letter, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, lays into Berman: "While I have a great deal of respect for your service to our nation and to our state, I don’t respect your name calling." He re-commits his pledge to Straus, and writes, "I didn’t go back on my pledge to Tom Craddick two years ago and I am not going to do so now with Joe Straus."

Nov. 9

8.50am Fundamentalist reactionaries the Texas Pastor Council sends out a "special alert" penned by executive director Dave Welch. Going on a scorch-the-earth party-purging, they slam Straus as a pro-abortion gambler. The craziest part of this diatribe? "Speaker Straus made Delwin Jones (former Democrat, and the most liberal Republican in the House) Chairman of the Redistricting Committee." Jones was knocked out as a Democrat in 1973, and has served as a Republican since 1989.

C.5pm Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan, recommits to Straus, and in a statement warns his fellow members that "we all consider the peril of pursuing an overreaching agenda in the face of a clear voter mandate that we focus on restoring fiscal prosperity."

7.21pm Representative-elect David Simpson, the new Republican for Longview, tries to make some waves by calling for the Republican Caucus to meet and vote on a new speaker. He said, "The House does not need an umpire – they need a team captain."

Nov. 10

10.50am The Young Conservatives of Texas send a letter to members, accusing Straus of loading committees last session with Democrats and moderate Republicans. In a missive that fairly impressively misses how committee appointments work, they get all bent out of shape about Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, getting on Ways and Means, and Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, chairing calendars. This time around, they warn, "The successful passage of a robust conservative agenda is put at risk by the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus."

C.3pm High weirdness by mail: Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, withdraws his pledge to Straus, claiming that he was threatened by "a member of Speaker Straus’s leadership team" that if he didn't stay on-board, his seat might disappear beneath him during redistricting. Hughes also claims that he was told of certain districts that were already doomed. This is doubly weird: One, no redistricting maps exist yet because the census data is still being processed; And two, Hughes is no hardline radical conservative. There are pieces here that, frankly, do not fit together.

4.29pm Chisum pops up, demanding that Straus release his pledge list. His argument is that there have been rumors about campaign finance commitments in exchange for votes in the speaker race. "My opponent, Mr. Straus, must take action to erase any perception that he has traded campaign cash for votes." Chisum then takes the low road by asking the first Jewish speaker of the House, "'Let our people go.'"

5.29pm Straus fires back at Hughes, calling the allegations "outrageous" and demanding that Hughes put up or shut up. "I did not and would never authorize, allow, or condone linking redistricting in any way with the Speaker’s race, and anyone who knows me knows better than to give that assertion any credence."

C.7pm Straus goes hard after Chisum: "You can’t claim to protect the members while at the same time activating outside forces to threaten them. You also can’t protect the membership while claiming several of them are complicit in legislative bribery."

Nov. 11

9.34am Another hat in the ring: Rep. Ken Paxton, R-Mckinney, announces he is challenging Straus without ever naming Straus. Presenting himself as "someone who has continuously served as an advocate for conservative principles," he argues he would be a unifying consensus candidate for the conservative block.

11.52am Hughes issues a press release saying that he has contacted Straus with the name:

I tried to reach the Speaker this morning and could not. I left a message on his cell phone and sent him a text message, requesting a brief telephone conversation.

Today is an important holiday, and it is understandable that he couldn’t be reached.

Since I was unable to reach the Speaker by phone, I sent him an email with the name of the member involved.

C.1pm Straus' staff hands Hughes' information over to General Investigating and Ethics Committee Chair Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville. The name is not released, and Hopson tells Quorum Report there will be a hearing later this month.

5.44pm Paxton picks up a pledge from Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Rockwell, (a prime contender for the most malevolent force within the Legislature).

8.45pm The Republican Liberty Caucus endorses Paxton, calling him "the real deal, a true economic conservative," and citing Matthew 16:36 in their attack on Straus: "What profiteth a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul." Hey, classy act, quoting the New Testament in your attack on the first Jewish speaker in Texas history. Clap. Clap. Clap. Truly bizarrely, they blame Straus for Dan Neil's 16-vote loss to Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. Yeah, that was Neil's problem.

Paxton is now following the @Legeland Twitter account. Hi, Ken.

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