With the vote for Texas House Speaker soon, it is important to remind Texas State House Republicans that current Speaker Joe Straus is neither their friend nor really one of them. In fact, as we reported back in November, RedState has uncovered never-before-seen, profanity-laden e-mails between senior staff and legislative lieutenants of Texas’ liberal GOP House Speaker Joe Straus demonstrating disrespect for, and even hostility towards, grassroots activists and conservative lawmakers. Here again is that information.
Tea party activists are called “idiots,” allies of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton are called “mother f***ers,” and decorated U.S. Marine and State Rep. Van Taylor is dismissed as “stupid,” by a top Straus political strategist.
Despite efforts by grassroots organizations, new media writers and others, most of the coordinated efforts against conservatives by Straus and his allies regarding Texas redistricting have been hidden from view. Speaker Straus has exerted various privileges and exemptions to keep the public from seeing emails or any other evidence of their activities. In fact, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has most or all the emails because of the re-districting litigation, but has not released them at the apparent request of his client, the Speaker.
However, in a batch of emails RedState has managed to get hold of (through other sources), it has become clear that Straus’ key strategists were openly hostile to conservatives. In particular, his top confidant Gordon Johnson (a Straus horseracing partner and former lobbyist) was clearly running the show — not the speaker’s chief of staff or other official office members.
But let’s be clear, this fits a pattern. Some readers may recall a post I wrote a few months back in the heat of the battle between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst. In that, a friend in Austin detailed a conversation overheard at a coffee shop between a Dewhurst and a Straus staffer. The conversation was similarly dripping with disdain for the Tea Party and all things conservative.
Now, as a quick reminder, Joe Straus was elected Speaker by Texas House Democrats and a gang of 11 liberal Republicans back in 2009. I will get into Straus’s record again in a later post, but there are a host of reasons Democrats backed him – not the least of which is a questionable record on life, a penchant for “new revenue,” and a track record of obstructing the will of conservatives.
In late 2010, before the start of the legislative session, State Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola (now the conservative opposition candidate for speaker) came forward with charges that he was told conservative lawmakers would be punished if they opposed Mr. Straus’ re-election. He specifically testified under oath that it was clear Reps. Erwin Cain and Dan Flynn would be punished.
The investigating committee (appointed by Straus) took no action, despite the charges constituting a breach of law. When the re-districting process concluded, Messers. Cain and Flynn were indeed paired. Meanwhile, conservative stalwarts Wayne Christian and Jim Landtroop were drawn out of 80 percent of their districts.
The Straus team therefore successfully eliminated three of four conservative opponents, replacing them with representatives more compliant to Straus. Of course, because the grassroots conservatives understood what was happening, these three were the only Straus opponents to lose re-election. Meanwhile, a number of Straus supporters -- including five committee chairs -- lost re-election, and still other Straus allies chose to retire rather than be challenged in their primaries.
But the looming question is whether the ongoing threats by Straus will lock down the race for speaker yet again.
These e-mails from the redistricting process shed new light on just how dismissive the Straus team was of Republican Party and conservative efforts to draw more fair districts – and should serve as a warning bell to the new House that it is time for Straus to go.
When the state’s Republican Executive Committee expressed concerns about the maps drawn for the state’s board of education, Straus lawyer and failed legislative candidate Eric Opiela expressed disdain for committee chairman (and Tea Party activist) Jason Moore in an email to other Straus allies, sarcastically saying, “need I say more.” Straus’ legal counsel said he did not “really trust” Moore – presumably because — in the words of Mr. Johnson — Moore “gave us hell.”
In fact, the Straus team had far more than just distrust for conservative input. Two long-standing House members — Wayne Christian, of Center, and Phil King, of Weatherford — were talking with members about ways to improve the maps. But Straus confidant and redistricting committee chairman Burt Solomons of Carrollton would hear none of it. In an email to Straus’ chief of staff, Denise Davis, he wrote: “Just got up... f**k Wayne & Phil. Let’s go to the Floor.” Straus’ official counsel replied, “Couldn’t agree more.” While Straus’ chief of staff, Denise Davis, wrote approvingly, “I love Burt!”
But, again, it appears Davis was just a cheerleader, not actually in charge. That fell to consultant Gordon Johnson. And it was Johnson who, it appears, was setting the tone opposing conservatives.
In one mid-June 2011 e-mail, Gordon Johnson refers to decorated Marine hero and State Rep. Van Taylor of Plano as “stupid” and “impolite” for having posted to Twitter news that a senior lawmaker wasn’t going to give early support to Straus.
The problem was that legislators clearly knew supporting Joe Straus was politically dangerous leaving the 2011 legislative session and preparing for 2012’s elections. (As noted, record numbers of Straus allies lost re-election bids, while others — like Mr. Solomons — chose to retire rather than lose primaries.) As a result, House members refused to sign the traditional “pledge cards” to the incumbent speaker for the next session.
Similarly, when Straus adviser Eric Opiela forwarded along information from a Tea Party activist, Straus consultant and close friend Gordon Johnson wrote that they were “doing battle with idiots.”
Apparently one such “idiot” was Kaufman County Tea Party chairman Ray Myers who called Straus’ office upset by the previously mentioned pairing of Mr. Flynn and Mr. Cain. An email describing the call by Straus aide Tyler Rutherford inconveniently noted that Myers said House Speaker Joe Straus “promised through a surrogate not to do this.”
Reminding Mr. Straus and his allies of their promises clearly wasn’t welcome.
Another person helping the Straus team draw maps was Lee Padilla, the “Central-West Regional Political Director” for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Apparently he and others on the Straus team did not like getting input from the friends of US Rep. Joe Barton. He referred to them as “Barton mother f**kers.”
Other concerns are being raised by various House members, Republican and Democrat alike, about the depths to which the redistricting process was abused by the Straus team.
In the next 72 hours, right after the election, members of the Texas House will have to begin considering who they will support for the speakership in 2013 — Mr. Straus, a self-described moderate dripping with disdain for conservatives, or the conservative Bryan Hughes.
These emails appear to me to be just the tip of the iceberg. Straus is a known liberal who was empowered predominantly by Democrats, and has held on to power through threats and intimidation. Conservatives in Texas have been fighting back; the question now is whether House Republicans in Texas will do what they have been elected to do… and stand up against Straus.
If you live in Texas, make sure your representative knows what to do.