Joe Straus lieutenant Jim Pitts provided a snapshot for the importance of the Texas House Speaker race when he told a questioner that to save any money opting out of federal Medicaid Texas would have to throw people out on the street . Pitt’s obstructionism toward major conservative reforms designed to a) get Texas’s fiscal house in order and b) push back the federal government foreshadow another Straus speakership.
Pitts, Straus’s Chairman of Appropriations, was speaking to the $15-25 billion budget shortfall Texas legislators face when they come in session in January. He didn’t hesitate to further stoke fears, speculating some state agencies will receive 80% budget cuts.
Everyone expects this attitude from Democrats, who preserve government power and cause fiscal disarray with such irresponsible fear-mongering tactics, but Texans have learned to expect the same from the Straus-team moderates in the House of Representatives.
This matters for the country because Governor Rick Perry has set out to use his last term as governor to lead the nation in pushing back the federal government. In his recent “Fed Up” book tour he made the cable news channel rounds, advocating the tenth amendment as a resource for solving our national fiscal mess. Opting out of massively wasteful federal entitlement programs in favor of tackling problems locally is first on Perry’s list.
However, the Texas system includes a very powerful House Speaker who enjoys sole discretion over Committee Chair appointments. In the six-month Texas session that meets every other year, conservative majority reforms can be stifled by Chairmen who de-prioritize them on the agenda. The legislature will run out of time before they’re considered, just as happened last session with a popular voter ID bill.
The incumbent moderate Joe Straus came to power in January of 2009 when 65 Democrats found 11 establishment Republicans to overcome a then slim GOP majority. The New York Times was giddy with what they rightly saw as proof the Obama wave reaching Texas. By all measures, moderate Republican Joe Straus’s House was run by Democrats, unsurprising given the origins of his speakership. Now the Texas House has 99 Republicans to 51 Democrats and the prospect of a House with quasi-Democratic control is even less tolerable.
However, the public hasn’t been allowed involvement in the Speaker race for nearly four decades due to a law passed in 1971 barring outside influence on the Speaker vote – the first vote of every session. That law was struck down as unconstitutional almost two years ago, so Texas is now in virgin territory. Straus was anointed Speaker of the upcoming session in the smoke-filled rooms that have been used for decades.
The difference this time is the public is finding its voice, and in most cases, finding out about the Texas House Speaker altogether, since insiders have cloaked its importance for decades. Erick Erickson of RedState.com was first among national voices to understand the importance of the Texas Speaker’s race.
The Straus team has already responded with bullying tactics and corruption . Representative Brian Hughes tore up his “pledge card” to Straus when a Straus lieutenant Larry Phillips told him redistricting was being used against Reps who failed to support Straus. An “investigation” was then commenced by Straus lieutenant Chuck Hopson, recipient of $43K in Straus campaign contributions just this year. The hearing was shamelessly made private and scheduled at the same time as a public hearing about blogger’s right to comment on the Speaker’s race – a controversy trumped-up by the Straus team after the Hughes debacle that served to distract from the Straus team’s investigation, and subsequent exoneration, of itself.
The establishment hold on the Texas Speakership is a harbinger for wrestling away establishment control nationwide. Courageous and wise legislators are already peeling off Straus and backing sterling conservative Ken Paxton. All Americans, not just Texans, should stand with them.