Straus Offers Welcome to His House

Nosy reporters snoop around the speaker's apartment

On the desk of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, there's a small silver mint julep cup filled with pens; under the desk's glass top, the words "I Love You Daddy" are picked out in blue and yellow. Along with some antique clay jars and a saddle loaned by a friend, those reflect the few home comforts that Straus has brought into the historic speaker's apartment.

In a break with previous practice and in an effort to improve media relations, Straus held an open house breakfast with the Capitol press corps on Feb. 6, giving reporters free access to the rooms where he lives and works. No one on the House staff or among the media could remember a similar gathering in a decade. Former Speaker Tom Craddick's notoriously selective relationship with the press extended to limited access to the apartment – and lay in part behind recent criticism about high spending on renovations for the 1,804-square-foot second-floor suite in the Capitol's west end. On its website, the State Preservation Board still files the speaker's apartments under "Hidden Spaces," but Straus said he plans to create a more open-door policy – both metaphorically and physically. He added, "It's important that this physical space is open to not just the media but the members and the public."

As the handful of suits hanging in the closet testified, Straus really does live here, at least part time. He originally planned to spend as little time as possible in the apartment, instead commuting back to his family in San Antonio. But with daily meetings with House members and the massive administrative task of filling committees, he's overnighting there more than he expected. "I didn't really want to stay here the first night by myself," he admitted. "You can barely see the ceiling when you're in bed, and it's a historic space. I've kind of got used to it now because most nights I'm so tired when I get to bed I really don't know where I am."

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