The Austin Chronicle

Day One on the Floor

By Richard Whittaker, January 11, 2011, 12:23pm, Newsdesk

And so it begins: The 82nd Legislature of the State of Texas begins today. We'll be keeping track of events throughout the day, so check back here for regular updates.

12pm Wow. We're gavelling in on time. The House floor is pretty crowded, as is the gallery. A smattering of "Ken Paxton for speaker" and a few lonely "Oust Straus" t-shirts.

12.10pm After a rousing rendition of the national anthem by Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, Secretary of State Hope Andrade launches her introductory notes about how the rest of the nation has a big sign up saying "GTT – Gone to Texas." Cue a bout of rampant Texas boosterism, in which she talks up economic and population growth and government shrinkage. "I am confident that I would rather be in Texas than any other state right now," she said. Her sole implication that this could be the worst session in a decade? "Strong ships are safe in port, but that is not what they are built for," she told members as they launch into the session. She then accused other states of being "lost at sea."

12.24pm And now we're in to the naming of every rep. This could take a while.

12.26pm Apparently there's a bunch of people stuck in a broken lift.

12.31 And the reading of names is complete, and we are quorate. Time for the oath.

12.33 Swearing in complete, members-elect are now members, and it's time for a committee of the Senate to be admitted. Apparently now they're ready to do business over there.

12.34 Rule time! No objection to temporarily adopting the rules of the 81st Legislature to allow them to elect a speaker.

12.37 Speaker nomination rules being read. This may get ugly, or this may be over in about ten minutes.

12.38 Hmm. Rep. Ken Paxton wants to address the House on a matter of personal privilege. He's officially withdrawing. Explaining that he was inspired to file originally as speaker because he was inspired by growing up under Ronald Reagan's conservative governorship of California. Telling his supporters that this is not a defeat for the conservative agenda, he said, "Even though we lost this race, I am encouraged to say that we have not lost the fight."

12.42 Paxton's speech gathers a round of applause, and a short standing ovation from a handful of reps and a bunch of attendees in the gallery.

12.43 Nominations are open, and Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodland, nominates Speaker Joe Straus to be speaker. "Are there any other nominations?" says Andrade, and there is an actual cough from the gallery.

12.44 Eissler opens up his nomination speech by complimenting staff for the roses on the dias. He then notes that the legislature is only obligated to pass one bill and, he said, "Trust me, the pay reflects that." Eissler has definitely come to praise Straus, not bury him. In typical fashion, Eissler (the Fozzy Bear of the House) tells the new members to remember what Mick Jagger said: "You can't always get what you want."

12.50pm Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, is the first seconder. "I have had the privilege to serve under six leaders, I know what it takes to be leader, and I firmly believe that leader is Joe Straus." She notes that she is the last remaining member of the largest ever freshman class.

12.53 Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, is next up. Praising Truitt's performance, he's the first person to mention that Texas is short of cash. "There are only two commodities that have any currency in this House: Our word, and our work ethic."

12.58 Now it's Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, who kicks off by talking about how his son has changed him, and made him consider what core values he wants to pass on. "Joe Straus exemplifies many of those values," he said, praising the speaker as "considerate and fair." As for his moral fortitude in staring down some serious challenges and hanging on to his principles. "Convenience is not exactly a core value that we want our kids to learn." Gallego also mentions the sadly missed Ed Kuempel as the first rep who really knew Straus, and argued that everyone has learnt his value. "In my part of the world, in West Texas, we know the difference between work horses and show horses." Most importantly, he said, "Under his leadership, every vote counts."

1.04pm Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, took a lot of flack from fringe right groups for being a RINO sell-out when she first backed Straus, and now she may get the line of the day about party unity. "Did I agree with Tom Craddick 100% of the time? Absolutely not. Do I agree with Joe Straus 100% of the day? Abolsutely not. Truth be told, I hope to come out with an 80% agreement rating with my husband."

1.07pm Andrade announces Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana as the last seconder (The word "last" gets a brief muttered hurrah.) Cook praises the long Texas tradition of the Straus family in Texas (apparently they did business with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders when they came to San Angelo) and Joe Straus' time in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration. Cook

1.12pm Dog in a manger time! Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, wants a record vote. Well, of course, how else will Empower Texans use member votes against them?

1.15pm 132 ayes, 5 nays, 2 present not voting. Straus is the speaker again.

1.36pm Back from a quick trip to a much less packed Senate, where Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, has been delivering a full-blown policy speech. His highlights? That the budget is kind of a mess. Medicaid and education are big cost drivers, but he also draws attention to the fact that the business margins receipts tax, aka the margins franchise tax, has woefully underperformed. "While none of us were elected to raise taxes," he inaccurately says, making the existing taxes work properly is part of the job description. However, he closes with a prediction that Mexico could collapse as a state.

1.37pm Back to the House, and Straus completes the oath of office, and delivers a brief acceptance speech that (so far) has been about thanking his wife. Turning to the recent speaker civil war, his statement that "division, threats of retribution and attacks upon people's religious beliefs … have no place in this House" receives the biggest round of applause so far. As for the agenda, he said that the November election showed that voters "want a more conservative government."

1.46pm The Senate has just packed up, and now Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, gets to introduce Gov. Rick Perry. Every time she mentions A&M, some Aggies do some whooping.

1.52pm Perry comes out all charm and BCS jokes, before saying that the shootings in Arizona remind everyone of "the fragility of life." Switching to the budget, he argued that the 2003 session "wasn't a cake walk" but that the cuts set then were the ones that set the ground for the Texas economic miracle (yeah, remember that?) He promises to make the changes without raising taxes. Hmm. Wonder whether he ran that by Ogden before he talked about the franchise tax.

1.57pm Now time for the other shoe to drop. Perry says that there is a "pressing need for tougher eminent domain legislation" (wonder whether the anti-Trans-Texas Corridor groups will buy his conversion.) Secondly, abolition of sanctuary city rules "to free up our police officers to do their job." If that was getting too heavy, he closes with another joke: "Will there be disagreements within this building? That's probably the best bet in this capitol today."

2.02pm Straus announces the committees to inform the Senate and governor that the House is ready to rock and roll. Bit late, since Perry is in the back corridor enjoying cookies and the Senate has already gone. Quick nod to the sign language interpreters and the doctor of the day.

2.03pm House Rules Committee chair Charlie Geren informs members that the rules are in their mail boxes, and they will take them up on Thursday. Straus adds that a special joint session with the Senate will canvas the vote on Thursday.

2.05pm Perry's anti-sanctuary city and eminent domain emergency requests are read into the record.

2.06pm Truitt back on the mike for a quick rendition of 'Texas, Our Texas.' She may be the only person that knows all the words.

2.14 Dean of the House Tom Craddick proposes that the House adjourn until 10am tomorrow. Now comes the in memoriam reading of the names of former members and office holders who have died in the interim.

2.16pm And we are gaveled out. See ya Thursday!

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