Keyword: Joe Straus
Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, was our guest in the Texas Politics Speaker Series on Friday, March 24, 2017. Here is a complete video of the interview, along with short excerpts on key topics including the budget, education policy, his own political future, and, of course, bathroom access.
The week was barely underway when the new Public Education Chair in the Texas House illustrated just how much style and personality can make the same position feel really different when it comes from a Huberty rather than an Aycock. The House managed to make a fight out of the one issue that there seemed to be universal agreement on in the Legislature, while the Texas Supreme Court decided they want to hear arguments about gay marriage after all. Meanwhile, in the commanding heights, Governor Abbott was invited by the other two-thirds of the big three to have a fight with one of them, but it was no cigar. Instead, the Governor was plenty happy to take the resolution passed by the Senate joining the call for a Convention of the States, though conservatives are not all of the same mind on whether that’s a good idea or not. If the governor has to change their mind, maybe he ought to ask the President, who seems to have done a good job of moving Republicans toward a more open-minded position on the President of Russia -- though it turns out Attorney General Sessions may have jumped the gun on that front at least a little.
As the week ends with a historically unique presidential succession, politics in Texas have a more familiar ring as set pieces of the legislative session play out safely removed from that nasty Washington, D.C. swamp. Kind of. The week saw attempted mobilization of interest groups in the continuing efforts to shape the agenda, budgetary politics between the two chambers of the Legislature, fuel for the never-ending speculation on the next election cycle in Texas, the unveiling of committee assignments in the Senate, and a ruling in the running court battle over Planned Parenthood’s participation in Medicaid in Texas.
The first week of the New Year brought with it an unsurprising uptick in political signaling in the run-up to the advent of the 85th Texas Legislature. Speaker Straus gave an interview that sent some selected signals to both legislative chambers, while the Lt. Governor, having released a few lists of priorities before the holiday break, zeroed in on bathroom access Friday. In more indirect moves, Attorney General Ken Paxton released some strong fundraising numbers and an Austin-resident, ABC pundit, and scold of the two parties confirmed rumors that had circulated all through the fall that he was considering running in 2018 as an independent for the Texas Senate seat currently held by Ted Cruz. On the national front, the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings in which testimony confirmed (along with a newly released report) that US intelligence agencies largely agreed that Russia intervened in the US election with the goals of de-legitimizing the process in the eyes of the world (and, presumably, Americans, it would seem), and also to aid Donald Trump.
Given the overall range in which the Speaker’s approval and favorability have moved, which you can peruse in search results for the speaker at the Texas Politics Project data archive, “non-notoriety” seems to be a good label for where the Speaker is dwelling, though we’ll be watching to see if he stays in range of the slightly more recognized when we do our usual poll in the early days of the 85th Legislature.
It’s not lost on participants in the legislative process, from members to their staffs, from the lobby to the state agencies, that the maneuvering to shape the agenda of the 85th Texas Legislature is well underway. While the 2016 presidential election dominates political coverage even more than usual, outside the spotlight the pace and volume of efforts to get issues on the state legislature's agenda increase daily. The Texas Tribune’s annual festival at UT Austin weekend before last generated lots of clues about what issues might rise to the surface -- and glimpses of how the friction between the chambers, as well as within and between the parties, is shaping the jockeying for position in Austin.
Donald Trump visits Austin Tuesday for a fundraising event hosted by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and a public rally in the Luedecke Arena at the Travis County Expo Center. Trump’s pending visit elicited a range of responses upon its announcement, from Democratic claims that Trump’s unlikely visit to Texas is a sign of weakness to Republican efforts to both laud the visit as an honor even as many GOP leaders dodge an appearance with Trump. Aside from Austin being an unlikely landing place for Trump -- the city isn't that weird, after all -- Trump's visit and the response of political class, especially among Republicans, illustrates just how mixed Trump's reception has been in Texas, where Trump finished behind favorite son Ted Cruz in the March primary. This isn’t to say that Texas is about to turn you-know-what-color in 2016 -- the combination of patterns of party identification and Republican antipathy to Hillary Clinton can be counted on the carry the day for Trump in the absence of a serious Trump meltdown. But conservatives and Republicans in Texas clearly have reservations about Trump that are evident in multiple results in the June 2016 University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll.
In addition to its focus on Texans’ views of the presidential election, the University of Texas / Texas Politics Project Poll asked for assessments of the state’s exclusively Republican leadership. Given the Republican Party’s dominance of state government and all statewide offices, the most meaningful competition has increasingly occurred among these leaders, leading to some inevitable degree of comparison.
The state’s political leadership moved this week to publicly acknowledge what reporters at some of the major dailies have been saying for weeks now: the use of emergency leave as severance pay by another name (mostly) is a thing, and not a good one. Depending on your perspective, Speaker Straus either sent up a trial balloon or invested a little political capital in an agenda setting move as the 85th Legislature looms a little closer on the horizon. Speaking of trial balloons, Hillary Clinton launched a big blue one in a reference to competing in Texas in a very good long read profile in New York Magazine, triggering a renewed discussion of her prospects in the land of Hill & Bill’s McGovernite youth as well renewed attention the headaches and heartburn Donald Trump’s approach to Hispanic outreach is causing in the GOP. Conservative opinion leader Bill Kristol’s search for a conservative alternative to Trump in the presidential has apparently led him to one David French. Sadly, there was another shooting on a college campus, which resonated, if probably only briefly, with the ongoing movement in Texas toward the August 1 implementation of campus carry policies on Texas campuses.