First elected in a special election partway through the 2005 legislative session, Straus’ first full session (2007) demonstrated his apathy towards conservative reforms.
*Winning for Women: A Pac For The Gov’t Affairs Council At Planned Parenthood of SA & S. Central TX
Heading into the 2009 legislative session, a group of 11 Republicans joined forces with 65 Democrats to oust conservative Republican Tom Craddick as speaker. Craddick was the first GOP House Speaker in Texas since the 19th Century.
Following his election as House Speaker, Straus told Texas Monthly that he supports Roe v. Wade and does not believe it should be overturned. He went on to call the pro-life movement “campaign fodder” and not a serious political position.
The highest support for his first term as speaker came from Planned Parenthood, praising his “tireless efforts.”
While Straus was named speaker in 2009 following the initial Barack Obama wave of 2008 that gave Democrats 74 seats out 150, the 2010 “Obama backlash” brought 101 Republicans into the Texas House in 2011.
Then-State Rep. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) mounted a last-minute challenge to Straus’ speakership. Fearful of retribution from Straus and the Austin lobby, Republicans demanded that Paxton withdraw his challenge. A dozen Republicans – including Paxton – gave a no-confidence vote for Straus on the first day of the 2011 session.
None of those who voted against Straus in 2011 have suffered politically; indeed, Paxton himself defeated Straus-ally Dan Branch for Attorney General. Others voting against Straus include Sen.-elect Van Taylor of Plano and Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock. On the other hand, Straus supporters and committee chairmen have been voted from office in large numbers every election cycle.
In 2015, State Rep. Scott Turner (R–Frisco) challenged Straus for the speakership, receiving 19 votes on the floor of the House. Straus was reelected with the unanimous support of the Democratic caucus. Following the vote, the conservative Republicans who had supported Turner were blocked from major committees. But also, even conservatives who had voted for Straus were punished, with liberal Republicans and Democrats being favored for positions on the most powerful committees.
While the Democrats now hold barely one-third of the seats in the Texas House, they have had great success under Straus’ speakership. In a study of legislative results, Rice University’s Mark Jones described legislation passed under Straus’ watch as “purple” at best in what is otherwise a very “red” state. The data-crunching website HardHatters.com has found that 51 percent of legislation passed from the House and to the governor’s desk in 2013 was authored or coauthored by Democrats.
In 2015, Democrats were rewarded for their support. Despite making up just over one-third of the House, Democrats were rewarded with half of the standing committee chairmanships and vice-chairmanships.
A chief lieutenant of Joe Straus, Ralph Sheffield, proudly admitted to constituents in late 2011 that Straus punished conservative GOP members. (It should be noted that Sheffield was defeated by a conservative challenger in the 2014 primary.) Likewise, another liberal Republican Straus Supporter, Jason Villalba, told constituents that Straus would use his position to kill conservative reforms and to advance a “progressive agenda” during the 84th legislature.
In 2013, Straus and his hand-picked Appropriations Committee spent an entire $8 billion budget surplus and took $4 billion from the state’s rainy day fund. Ultimately, Straus presided over a legislative session that increased total spending by 26% over the previous biennium—including taking $4 billion from the state’s savings account. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/7/13, Texas goes Sacramento)
Similarly, Straus and his allies repeatedly pushed for the state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. (San Antonio Express-News, 3/6/13, Straus touts Medicaid action)
In 2015, Straus, along with his chairman of the powerful State Affairs Committee, State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) hijacked an ethics bill supported by Gov. Abbott and conservatives in the Texas Senate. He stripped provisions from the bill that would have required legislators to disclose when they have business contracts with government entities and preventing legislators and public officials from working as hired-gun lobbyists. In their place, he substituted policies aimed at regulating the speech of churches and civic groups. Gov. Abbott would later call those policies “unconstitutional.”
Likewise, Straus commissioned the “witch-hunt” investigation into UT Regent Wallace Hall. It has been Wallace Hall’s work that uncovered inappropriate influence of legislators on university officials and corrupt admissions practices by certain staff of the University of Texas at Austin. (D Magazine, 6/25/13, House Speaker Joe Straus Empowers Impeachment Investigation Against UT Regent Wallace Hall) For exposing the corruption, Straus and his colleagues threatened Hall with impeachment and failed in an attempt to have him indicted by the Travis County District Attorney.
Joe Straus obstructed and killed a number of other conservative reforms sent over by the Texas Senate and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Over the last three election cycles, voters have been retiring from office those legislators most aligned with Joe Straus. The most recent election cycle has been no different:
Five Straus loyalists lost in the 2014 primaries, including one committee chair and two committee vice chairs. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving), Diane Patrick (R-Arlington), Ralph Sheffield (R-Temple), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Bennett Ratliff (R-Carrollton) were defeated in the primary.
Lost Rep. Seat
Lost Rep. Seat
Lost Rep. Seat
Lost Rep. Seat
Lost Rep. Seat
Straus-favored candidates running for higher office lost in the 2014 primaries. Straus committee chairs Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) and Dan Branch (R-Dallas) lost their bids for statewide office. Former Straus lawyer Eric Opiela failed to make a runoff for Agricultural Commissioner despite pouring millions of dollars of his personal fortune into the effort.
Lost Comptroller Race
Lost Attorney Gen. Race
Lost Ag. Commissioner Race
Several Straus loyalists and committee chairs retired from the House. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), Tryon Lewis (R-Odessa), John Davis (R-Houston), Rob Orr (R-Burleson), Allan Ritter (R-Nederland), and Bill Callegari (R-Katy) all chose not to seek re-election.
Jimmie Don Aycock
Serious Straus-backed challenges to outspoken conservative House incumbents failed. Representatives Jonathan Stickland (R-Hurst), Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), and Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) all defeated moderate primary challengers receiving money and support from organizations connected to Straus.