Sunday, August 13, 2017

Selecting Texas' Speaker

There is a phenomenon in politics, so routine that it has become cliché. We even make jokes about it by saying things like “There must be something in the water in Austin.”, or Washington, or virtually any seat of government throughout the United States. That phenomenon is, of course, the example of a politician who is carried across the finish line on election day by voters excited to have a champion on their side, only to see those voters eventually confronted with the reality that the politician is a champion for an opposing team.

It is a mystery why such people are so frequently drawn to become politicians. It is no mystery why voters become disillusioned. One often offered explanation for the phenomenon is that Austin changes and corrupts previously principled people. A more plausible theory is that the magical properties of Austin’s water reveal unprincipled politicians for who they have always been.

One of the most significant events for Texas politics in recent years is scheduled to occur on August 17th. The Texas House Republican caucus is scheduled to convene to discuss or adopt the process for selecting the Speaker of the House for the 2019 legislative session. This is the opportunity for House Republicans to take the selection process out of the hands of the Democrats and their few GOP allies. Thankfully, it is looking increasingly likely that a quorum will be formed and that the meeting will take place. What is almost surreal is that a significant number of House Republicans are dragging their feet on committing to attend. Why are House Republicans not overwhelmingly leaping at the chance to let Republicans choose the Republican nominee for Speaker?

In 2016 a plank was added to the Republican Party of Texas platform recommending the following process for selecting Speaker:
“Texas Speaker of the House- We oppose the use of pledge cards and call for the Republican members to caucus after each November general election to determine by secure secret ballot, their candidate for Speaker. We also call for the Republican members to vote as a unified body for their selected speaker candidate when the legislature convenes in regular session.”
This is not an unreasonable request. The grassroots that has worked countless hours to bring the House Republican caucus from the slimmest possible majority in 2009(when Joe Straus became Speaker), to a near super-majority in 2017 simply wants their Republican majority to be able to function as a Republican majority. On August 17th the opportunity that grassroots Republicans have been working for, and pleading for since Joe Straus became Speaker of the House will arrive.

In recent discussions with grassroots Republicans, some former leaders in their local Party, I have been struck once again with how much frustration there is over the disconnect between representatives and the sincere concerns of the Republican base. I have watched in awe as a variety of representatives have offered up excuses for why they might not make it to the meeting this Thursday. An opportunity to show real concern and a connection with the cares and interests of their constituents is replaced with another subliminal declaration that what they represent has everything to do with Austin, and very little to do with the folks back home.

There is a real struggle taking place in Austin between representatives of the Republican grassroots and representatives of the Joe Straus caucus. It is unfortunate, and painful to see this divisiveness within our own Party, but it is the state of Texas politics. There will be few better opportunities for GOP House members to demonstrate whether they represent the Texans in their district, or an institution of politics in the state capitol. On August 17th a clear message will be sent to the Republican base - one way, or another.

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