Anyone following the race for Texas Speaker knows that it is possible (and critical) to knock off liberal Republican Joe Straus, but that to do so requires unifying behind a single conservative alternative. Anyone, that is, except for State Rep. Warren Chisum. Or does he?
As quick background - Warren Chisum is a Democrat-turned-Republican who has been in the Texas House since 1989, representing a West Texas district (88) north of Amarillo. He's old school Texas politics - where "conservative" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In October, he announced a challenge to incumbent speaker Joe Straus, a liberal Republican who was given power by 65 Democrats and 11 pathetic Republicans two years ago. After announcing, Chisum gained absolutely no traction - and frankly, after garnering a few early supporters, has been absent from the fight and rumored to be traveling and away from the state.
Meanwhile, Ken Paxton, who represents McKinney (just north of Dallas), decided that Straus needed a serious challenge. After all, Texans sent a strong message in November by boosting the number of House Republicans by 22, giving them a 99-51 super-majority over Democrats - and with 2 Democrats switching parties this month, the number is 101-49. So Paxton, a proven limited government conservative with a strong record, who is young and joined the House in 2002, has been plucking off members one-by-one, doing all the hard work required to get it done. And he has gained significant national endorsements - from former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to Gun Owners of America and other conservative groups.
In short - Paxton can win. Chisum cannot. It is that simple. Yet Chisum will not get out of the race and endorse Paxton with only 3 weeks left before a vote will occur on the floor of the Texas House for speaker, which right now would empower the Democrat-supported Straus. Why?
Because Chisum is more interested in making a point (but keeping his friends) than in actually winning the race (and therefore actually changing things).
At this point, I am willing to chalk it up to pure stubbornness. But if Chisum does not get out of the race this week and clear the way for Paxton to build momentum in the important task of replacing Joe Straus with a conservative, then we may have to ask what Mr. Chisum's true motives are and begin to explore his political philosophy and voting record in detail.
The Texas Speaker is chosen by a vote on the floor of the House - by members of both Parties. But, keep in mind, there are 101 Republicans and 49 Democrats. So, the goal here is simple - we need 76 (of 101) Republicans to support Ken Paxton. Period.
There will be a Republican caucus meeting sometime before the actual vote - and it is critical that Ken be given the chance to build his support before that vote. If Chisum stays in, there are a number of Texas House members who will feel obliged to support him instead of Ken out of either longstanding friendship or to honor a commitment made before Ken announced his candidacy.
But let's be clear - Chisum can not win, and is doing nothing to change that.
So Mr. Chisum should step aside - THIS WEEK - and support Ken Paxton. If he does not, again, we must question his motives and whether he is more interested in making a point rather than winning.