The only somewhat interesting question amidst the opening ceremonies of the of the 85th Legislature is whether the House of Representatives will re-elect San Antonio Republican Joe Straus Speaker of the House by acclaim or by a record vote. The latter would require House dissidents who have endeared themselves to conservative activists in the interest group universe and in their districts by criticizing Straus to make a tough choice. Voting for Straus as Speaker on the public record creates a potential liability among the anti-Straus interest groups who are active participants in GOP primary elections. A recorded vote against Straus provides a public sign of opposition and invites being marginalized by the leadership in things like committee assignments and the treatment of their bills – which also potentially affects a member’s reelection prospects.
For legislators and direct participants in the process, the main question at hand is whether the 19 legislators who cast votes against Straus' Speaker nomination suffered in the aftermath, and in turn, whether they would be likely to suffer again. Their overall legislative record suggests they probably did.
House Bills Authored (Excludes Joint Authored Bills, House Resolutions)
|Bills Passed House||House Success Rate||Committee Assignments||
Returning for 2017
|Scott Turner*||11||0||0.0%||Government Transparency & Operation; International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs||No|
|Rodney Anderson||21||5||23.8%||International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs; Urban Affairs||Yes|
|Dustin Burrows||10||0||0.0%||County Affairs; International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs||Yes|
|Pat Fallon||33||4||12.1%||Elections; Special Purpose Districts||Yes|
|Bryan Hughes||31||6||19.3%||Appropriations; Appropriations - S/C on Articles I, IV & V; Juvenile Justice & Family Issues||No|
|Mark Keough||13||1||7.7%||Corrections; Human Services||Yes|
|Stephanie Klick||28||1||3.6%||Human Services; Pensions||Yes|
|Matt Krause||20||2||10.0%||Coastal Barrier System; Corrections; Land & Resource Management||Yes|
|Jeff Leach||37||4||10.8%||Criminal Jurisprudence; Government Transparency & Operation||Yes|
|Matt Rinaldi||11||0||0.0%||Agriculture & Livestock; Business & Industry||Yes|
|Scott Sanford||31||3||9.7%||Coastal Barrier System; Juvenile Justice & Family Issues; Land & Resource Management||Yes|
|Matt Schaefer||31||0||0.0%||Defense & Veterans' Affairs; Urban Affairs||Yes|
|Matt Shaheen||18||0||0.0%||Criminal Jurisprudence; Defense & Veterans' Affairs||Yes|
|David Simpson||17||3||17.6%||Agriculture & Livestock; Criminal Jurisprudence||No|
|Stuart Spitzer||12||0||0.0%||County Affairs; Human Services||No|
|Jonathan Stickland||13||0||0.0%||County Affairs; Special Purpose Districts||Yes|
|Tony Tinderholt||11||1||9.1%||Corrections; County Affairs||Yes|
|Molly White||10||0||0.0%||Homeland Security & Public Safety; Urban Affairs||No|
|Bill Zedler||23||1||4.3%||Public Health; Special Purpose Districts||Yes|
As Jonathan Tilove’s nicely conceived and well-reported piece in the Austin American Statesman yesterday illustrates, some of last session’s most prominent anti-Straus legislators are striving to sidestep the problem by saying they would vote for Straus because the record vote would be meaningless. From the Tilove piece (quoted extensively in homage to Tilove’s “First Reading” style):
“They want to catch us and get the media to roll out this fictitious, ‘Look, they’ve lost ground, look they’ve only picked up one seat, blah blah blah.’ That’s stupid, so why play into their hands?” said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who describes himself as “at war with the speaker” and yet might cease fire for Tuesday’s vote.
Tilove also gets a nice quote that captures the, shall we say, global scope of Tea Party group’s animus toward Straus that the dissidents need to steer clear of getting on the wrong side of in this situation.
“One day we will be powerful enough to free ourselves from that man and will work to make Texas as conservative as we brag about being,” Julie McCarty, president of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, posted on her Facebook page the same day Sullivan issued his missive. “We will celebrate that accomplishment and pass it down to our children and our children’s children. But Joe Straus will still have to live with his own shameful, conniving, wheeling and dealing self. How does he do that?”
If the animus of the Tea Party is clear, the legislative exile experienced by the 19 legislators is also pretty clear in the table above. One can understand why they might want to just join in nomination by acclaim and move on to different forms of resistance to Straus this time around – while attempting to inoculate themselves with prickly Tea Party activists and constituents. And for the wags out there, and/or the defenders of the Speaker who want to shrug and say “no grudges here,” it’s possible to suggest that at least some of these legislators’ record might look like this even if on opening day two years ago they had waved “I’m With Joe!” flags on the floor. But no one really believes this explains the uniform lack of success of the 19.
The core question for the fifteen returning members who voted against Straus, at least as far as the session goes, is whether this positioning matters at all – particularly given the tone expressed in Tilove’s story by dissident figureheads Stickland and Matt Rinaldi. If you’re still describing yourself as “at war with the Speaker,” the vote may not matter in the worst way, as far as one’s effectiveness as a legislator is concerned. Going along with the election of the speaker is in effect asking for time off your sentence for good behavior, albeit disingenuously. Even setting aside this half-hearted truce, this tact assumes that the punishment meted out for the 2015 votes included the possibility of parole. If it doesn’t, there’s not much difference between whatever they do on the voice vote, or whether the dissidents provide unattributed faux acclamation.