We often focus our frustration on the Washington establishment - and for good reason. But state and local establishment is also very much alive and well. Texas, notwithstanding its generally conservative environment, is no exception.
The race for Texas Speaker of the House is a key test for newly elected Republicans in the state. Will they stand with the people of Texas or will they instead seek power for the sake of it, team up with the establishment and political consultants in Austin to keep it, and kiss the ring of liberal Republican (and incumbent Speaker) Joe Straus for powerful committee slots, instead of supporting the actual conservative in the race, Ken Paxton?
We may know the answer next Monday, January 10th, sometime after 1:30pm. That is when Republicans are scheduled to gather for a caucus meeting to discuss the Speaker position and to vote as a caucus to determine who Republicans think should be the Speaker.
Now, this is not setting well with Joe Straus and his squishy allies in the Texas House who are doing his bidding, such as Representative Dan Branch. Under the Texas Constitution, the Speaker is chosen on the floor of the Texas House by all members (Democrat and Republican) - and that is supposed to occur next Tuesday. So, Straus has Branch and his other minions (such as supposedly conservative Representative Doc Anderson, from Waco) harassing Republican Caucus chair Larry Taylor with letters and complaints that the caucus meeting is unconstitutional or somehow violates the Texas open meetings requirement.
The arguments are somewhere between absurd and weak (at best) - as was well explained by Texas Monthly's Paul Burka (here) and noted Constitutional scholar Kelly Shackelford (with Liberty Institute), who explained that the caucus vote is "irrelevant Constitutionally," and that "[t]his is foolishness and a clear attempt at a smokescreen for people who want to avoid the caucus."
And that's really the story, isn't it? Straus wants to make this happen behind closed doors. Why? Because he initially came to power on the back of the support of Democrats. Pure and simple. As Erick, Drew Ryun and I have noted here before, he became Speaker with 65 Democrat votes and 11 Republican votes. So now, Straus wants to use his power and influence to buy votes with committee chairmanships and whatever else he can do.
Interestingly, Ken Paxton (along with tag along Warren Chisum, who still refuses to get out of the way) sent a letter to Mr. Taylor saying they'd be delighted to avoid any problems with open meetings requirements by having the caucus meeting in public view. Sure, why not? Let's see which Republicans will stand with the people and which ones will stand with the establishment.
The people are speaking - and their message has been clear. Besides heading to the polls and growing the Republican majoirty from 76 to 101 in the House last November, they are making their feelings clear regarding the Speakership. Republicans in Collin, Comal, Bexar, Harris, Hood, Smith, Johnson, Rockwall, Travis and Dallas Counties have passed resolutions in favor of having a caucus vote and the selection of a conservative Speaker. The Heritage Alliance conducted a poll and found that 89% of Republican primary voters want a conservative Speaker. Tarrant County conducted a Straw Poll and Paxton won with over 85% of the vote - 90 votes to Straus' and Chisum's 7 each.
And, Paxton is racking up endorsements from Texas groups by the day - including Concerned Women for America, Texas Alliance for Life, Young Conservatives of Texas, Gun Owners of America and numerous others. And a number of groups are going to "score" the Speaker vote heavily when rating House Republicans this cycle - such as Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Eagle Forum and the Heritage Alliance.
Straus on the other hand, is building up his support among the political class and professional consultants. In Capitol Inside, editor Mike Hailey wrote a piece in late December that outlined the efforts by the Straus camp to build support among the political consultants. Of his lead consultant, Gordon Johnson, Hailey wrote that he "solicited the consultants' opinions on what the speaker could do to help them help their clients." He went on to add, "[t]he group began huddling about once every six to eight weeks for strategy meetings that Straus and Karen Hughes, the co-director of the speaker's re-election bid, would drop in on for a while when they had the chance." And, "it's no coincidence that the Straus supporters who've held their ground through the storm are represented by many of the same consultants with whom the speaker's team cultivated working relationships during the past year."
In short - he's working to buy off colleagues to retain power, and using the establishment, including big national names like Karen Hughes, to do it.
Ken Paxton may not be perfect - he's be the first to tell you he's not. But for whatever faults he may have - he is conservative and has a conservative voting record to back it up. He is supported by conservatives in a year that the people of Texas sent a strong message that Texas is a conservative state and should be governed that way.
Will the 101 Republican members of the Texas House stand up and do the right thing? We'll be watching, you can guarantee that.