January 03, 2009
We have a contender. Now what?

So as we know, we have a designated champion to take out House Speaker Tom Craddick, San Antonio Rep. Joe Straus. Early reaction from people whose support he'll need is positive. Here's a roundup of that.


Straus emerged as the unanimous choice after several rounds of balloting, said longtime Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin -- himself a candidate before the group chose Straus.

"He's a fresh face. He's a uniter. He brings new ideas and lets every member have their say," Kuempel said. "He's been a lifelong Republican, a precinct chairman and a businessman. He's got solid credentials. He's the foundation of the Republican Party."

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said Straus will draw strong Democratic and Republican support.

"I am part of an effort making phone calls to Democrats, and we're hearing very positive things," Villarreal said.

He said he was ecstatic with the choice of Straus.


Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, called Straus "an excellent choice," saying, "In the two terms that he's been there, he's demonstrated a true spirit of bipartisanship. He's been able to stay above partisan fights, and he's shown that he can work with everyone," Castro said.

Straus also would be a powerful ally for San Antonio and South Texas in getting critical infrastructure, Castro said.


Several conservative groups worry that Craddick's defeat would result in more liberal legislation moving through the House and are calling upon members to contact their lawmakers.

"It is crucial that you call your state representative immediately and demand that he/she not participate in this coup," the Free Market Foundation said in an e-mail message to members. "Ask for an answer. Let him or her know that if he joins in this effort, you will take it as a message that he is opposing everything you care about and the traditional values of life and family for which you stand. This will dramatically impact every issue you care about."

The Free Market Foundation promotes limited government, opposes abortion, supports traditional marriage and family, parental rights, and public religious expressions.

I'll pause here to note that Straus is pro-choice and has been honored by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, so the Free Market Foundation has reason to fret. Which is fine by me.

Straus' outreach efforts will extend to about 10 Democrats who have been aligned with Craddick to see if he can switch their allegiance. One of them will be Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, who prefers to be called "an independent Democrat" instead of a Craddick Democrat.

McClendon said she wants to talk to all of the remaining speaker candidates -- including Democrats Sylvester Turner and Senfronia Thompson of Houston -- before deciding whom she will support.

"Several of the speaker candidates have indicated some of us will not be able to serve in leadership positions again," said McClendon, who is chair of the Rules and Resolutions Committee under Craddick.

She also expressed concern about the ability to represent her district but chuckled when asked if she thought Straus would impede her efforts to represent San Antonio.

Needless to say, getting some of the Craddick D's on board would be a big step forward for Straus.


House members had been anticipating Friday's meeting of the 11 ABC Republicans to give direction to the speaker's race.

Ten of the lawmakers met at the Tarrytown home of Rep. Byron Cook of Corsicana, for more than two hours.

Rep. Rob Eissler of The Woodlands was on the phone and a webcam. Reps. Burt Solomons of Carrollton and Ed Kuempel of Seguin were thought to be front-runners, but after three ballots, the less-experienced Straus won the support of his colleagues.

Except for Eissler and Rep. Delwin Jones of Lubbock , who left early, the group emerged together to announce their choice. They all emphasized Straus' GOP credentials and his ability to unify the House.

Morning News:

"I look forward to hearing what he sees as his goals for the session," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco, adding that he hadn't talked to Straus yet. "I think we're on our way to change."


Republicans who form "the Group of 11" are trusting that their number, coupled with 64 Democrats who have signed a pledge not to vote for Craddick under any circumstances, will prove a momentum and a math that is hard to overcome: 75 out of 150 House members oppose Craddick's re-election as speaker.

Those 64 Democrats, presumably, will be hearing from Straus over the weekend.

"I do know from observing him during the session that he's a thoughtful person who is a person of his word," said Dunnam, contacted by phone after the meeting. "Those are good traits. I haven't talked to him, and I imagine every Republican and Democrat is going to want to visit with him."

Star Telegram:

"Things are falling into place very well," said state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. "He's a conservative that people can talk to. He has a reputation for being fair."

Nearly a dozen lawmakers known as ABC Republicans -- "Anybody But Craddick" -- united behind Straus during a meeting at a home in central Austin. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, a member of the group, praised the selection.

"He listens well. He's a consensus-builder. He understands how the House should be run," Geren said. "I think he'll do a great job."


Incoming freshman Rep. Chris Turner, D-Burleson, who spoke with Straus by phone, said that the San Antonio lawmaker's urban credentials could make him more sensitive to problems in North Texas, such as transportation and pollution.

"I think from Tarrant County's perspective, it will be great to have a speaker from an urban area," Turner said.

El Paso Times:

El Paso legislators, who are among 64 Democrats who have pledged not to vote for Craddick under any circumstances, mostly cheered the choice of Straus.

State Reps. Joe Pickett, Norma Chávez and Chente Quintanilla and state Rep.-elect Joe Moody all said they would support Straus, who has served just two terms in the Texas House.

"I have full confidence he will help us restore peace and respect on the House floor, and that is beneficial to El Paso's entire legislative agenda," Chávez said.

State Rep.-elect Marisa Marquez said she would not commit to supporting Straus until she met him.

"I think it's the most responsible thing to do," she said.

So there you have it. Some blog reactions are here, here, here, and here. Team Craddick is meeting Sunday, but you can be sure they're working the phones as hard as Team Straus is. Nobody knows yet where John Smithee or Dan Gattis or Gattis' three followers will wind up. If a bunch of previously uncommitted-but-presumed-for-Craddick folks start talking up Straus, or if some of the Dems on the List of 64 start wavering, this could be over one way or the other very quickly. I think there's a pretty decent chance that the official vote for Speaker on the 13th will be a formality, but it's too soon to say yet. What do you think of this choice?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 03, 2009 to That's our Lege
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