January 12, 2009
The Chron on the Straus effect

The Chron takes a look at what life in the House might be like under new Speaker-to-be Joe Straus.

For Texans, that means a new team of House lawmakers will lead critical committees involving everything from future college costs to hurricane relief, from new roads to prison security.

A new political playing field also will make a huge difference in what issues get the most attention from the Legislature when it convenes Tuesday.

New doors will be open for regulation of utilities and homebuilders, for environmental regulation and changes to the Windstorm Insurance Pool, according to legislative observers.

Odds for casino gambling may have improved.

And if state budget cuts are needed, they may not be as draconian as those made during a 2003 state financial crisis.

The changes come with the end of Speaker Tom Craddick's three terms of iron-handed leadership in the House. Craddick was known for handling legislation with a no-prisoners approach.

When Republicans joined with Democrats in 2005 for legislation to grant property tax relief to homeowners with expanded homestead exemptions, Craddick pressured his fellow Republicans into killing the bill instead because the measure didn't give businesses any tax breaks.

Those tactics led to Craddick's demise.


Cathie Adams, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum, said she fears Straus will take a Republican House and give in to Democrats because they helped boot Craddick out.

"If the Democrats chose him, he's going to have to pay back the favors," Adams said.

Rep. Edmund Kuemple, R-Seguin, one of the Republicans who helped Straus succeed, said there is no reason to believe Democrats will have extra influence over the new speaker.

"We're starting at ground zero to be inclusive," Kuemple said. "There's nothing they owe us, and there's nothing we owe them. No promises were made in any way, shape or form."


Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said the Republican majority in 2003 not only pushed through deep budget cuts but also made changes in the Children's Health Insurance Program and in the regulation of college tuition. Those kinds of permanent changes will not be made in the House now with its near-even partisan divide, he predicted.

"Clearly, the fact we are about at a 50-50 split in the House means you have to stay away from the extreme positions in order to pass anything," Hochberg said.

I've convered some of this ground before. Clearly, the Democrats are going to have some more influence this session than they had before. That's not just a result of Craddick's ouster, it's a fact of the 76-74 partisan split. It's not 2003 any more. The Republicans can't cram legislation through any more, because they don't have the numbers. Democrats will get a more representative share of committee chairs, and everyone will get a fairer shot at preferred committee assignments, as that's one of the things Straus has promised. We won't really know what things will be like till we see what those committees look like, and then again what the calendar looks like, but I think it's safe to say we'll see a different House. Certainly, that's what the fight over the Speakership was all about.

A question that can't be avoided even at this early date is who will be Speaker in 2011? Tom Craddick won't go away, and the Democrats still hope to win those last two seats to gain a majority, which would bring calls for a Democratic Speaker with them. We may all love Joe Straus now, but a seat on the Legislative Redistricting Board ain't something to pass up. The best outcome for a second term of Speaker Straus is probably a net change of no more than one seat in either direction. So enjoy it while it lasts, Rep. Straus, because it may not last that long.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 12, 2009 to That's our Lege

Per Kathleen McKinley at Texas Magazine, it appears that the presumed Parliamentarian, Denise Davis, may also have a heavily Democratic influence on Straus, given her close ties and financial connection to Houston trial lawyer and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn. See her current post at MyTexasMag. Has Off the Kuff looked into this connection?

Posted by: EponymousRex2012 on January 12, 2009 7:29 AM
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