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High Stakes Showdown in Austin

Special-Session-Photo-Bridge

The 2017 Texas legislative special session will begin next week on July 18th at the state Capitol. Governor Greg Abbott underscored his frustration in his announcement on June 6th expressing that a “special session was entirely avoidable, and there was plenty of time for the legislature to forge compromises to avoid the time and taxpayer expense of a special session.” The 30 day summer session has a substantial agenda pinpointing twenty legislative priorities of the Governor that were left undone in the 140 day regular session which ended in May. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was more direct in his assessment of the unfinished business of the Texas Legislature this year. At the end of the session on May 29th he called out the House Leadership controlled by House Speaker Joe Straus as moving  slow. “Whether it was just not managing the calendar or whether it was purposefully done to kill legislation, I’m not sure,” he said.

During a press conference held today by Lt. Governor Patrick, he stated that the Senate passed ten of the twenty bills slated for consideration during the upcoming Special Session, but those ten bills were “killed by the Speaker.”  Dan Patrick indicated that he supports all twenty bills the Governor has placed on the special session call.  The Lt. Governor also laid out his school finance plan that will “end recapture.” According to Lt. Gov. Patrick, “There was no funding in the Speaker’s school finance plan” (from last session) and he called the Speaker’s plan from last session “a dangerous political stunt” because it deferred money from one program and spent it on another, calling it a “ponzi scheme.”

The Lt. Governor also emphasized property tax reform, which he will designate as Senate Bill 1 in the Special Session. Patrick again blamed the Speaker for killing property tax reform last session and said “I will not join the Speaker in laying the groundwork for a state income tax.”

It is becoming obvious that Speaker Straus has no working relationship with either the Governor or Lt. Governor, which greatly limits what our large Republican majorities can accomplish.  Patrick said he has “never had a one-on-one meeting with the Speaker all session.” But had a two hour phone call with the Governor just this week.

Last session, Senate and House leaders locked horns on a number of major legislative issues. Bills were flying through the Senate and screeching to a dead stop in the House. When negotiating compromises on bills such as educational funding (education consumes over half of the state’s budget),  the Senate attempted to add funding in the House’s school finance bill for alternative (limited and restricted) school choice programs for families with children with special needs. Joe Straus and his House leadership team stripped the school choice provision from the bill (31 states have school choice programs across the U.S. but not Texas, due entirely to the opposition of Speaker Straus). Dan Huberty, a Straus-appointed Lieutenant and Republican Chairman of the House Public Education Committee,  publicly declared early in the session that school choice legislation, a priority of Lt. Gov. Patrick and the Governor, was a dead issue.

The Lt. Governor stated publicly that he was “appalled that the Texas House turned down an additional half-billion dollars for public schools simply because it included a program that might allow some disabled child somewhere in Texas to attend a private school that his parents believe would be better for him or her.”

Senate Bill 6, the Texas Privacy Act, has been called the Texas “bathroom bill”. The bill was authored by Republican Senator Lois Kolkhorst and co-sponsored by Donna Campbell and 17 other conservative Republicans. The intent of the bill is to preserve a societal norm representing the most fundamental basis for society – our understanding and protection of the natural family and of biologically determined sex.  The bill would protect the privacy and safety of women and children by preserving the traditional understanding of male/female bathroom access in public spaces on the basis of the biological sex of the user at birth. The law would only apply to public buildings including schools and would pre-empt any local ordinances that mandate access to the contrary.  Transgenderism is correctly referred to as gender dysphoria in scientific research journals. (See accompanying Alamo Torch article on Transgender Ideology.) The Governor, Lt. Governor, all the Republicans in the State Senate and Democratic Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. voted for the measure but Speaker Straus never referred it to a House committee, later changing the language of the Senate bill with what the Lt Governor called “ambiguous language” which led to an impasse.

In line with liberal San Antonio Democrat legislators, Diego Bernal and Jose Menendez, Speaker Straus called the Republican-sponsored SB 6 bill (a priority measure of the Governor and Lt. Governor) a “tremendous mistake”. Democrat Diego Bernal who was given a choice assignment by Straus as Vice-Chair of the House Education Committee was the cheerleader as city councilman for the 2013 San Antonio special homosexual rights ordinance (NDO). He called the Republican-sponsored Privacy Act a “discriminatory bill … another attempt to discriminate against the LGBTQ”. Democrat Jose Menendez thought the “bathroom bill unfairly targets a vulnerable population and that is against our core values.” These values are diametrically opposed to the Texas Republican Party’s Platform which includes public safety expressed in the section under “Strengthening families, protecting life, and promoting health” voted on by thousands of Republican delegates at the state convention last year:

“Gender Identity – We urge the enactment of legislation addressing individuals’ use of bathrooms, showers and locker rooms that correspond with their biologically determined sex.” (RPT Plank 87)

According to Texas Right to Life, the reliable statewide pro-life organization, the regular legislative session was marred by “duplicity, apathy, and obstructionism from the leadership in the Texas House. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick prioritized and passed life-saving legislation through the Senate in March, then he and the senators sought to revive Pro-Life measures killed by the House at the eleventh hour, despite constant obstruction by the Speaker and his Lieutenants.”

State Republican Party Chairman James Dickey recently called attention to the Texas party platform which has been ignored to a significant degree by Speaker Joe Straus and his “moderate” Republican allies in the House.  In his letter to Speaker Straus on June 15th, Chairman James Dickey asked for Straus’ assistance in “working with the Governor’s office to include our remaining Legislative Priorities in the special session call”. He listed ten planks which were priorities of the Governor. It remains to be seen if Republican Speaker Straus will respond to this letter.

On Monday, July 10th, the County Executive Committee (CEC) of the Republican Party of Bexar County, consisting of county committee board members and Republican precinct chairs, held their quarterly meeting in San Antonio. At that meeting, a precinct chairman made a motion for the county executive committee to approve two resolutions. (Full Disclosure – this writer attended the CEC meeting as a precinct chairman).

The first resolution called for the Bexar County Republicans to support the agenda of the Governor and Lt. Governor in the upcoming special session with special emphasis on SB6, the Texas Privacy Act (Bathroom bill). The second resolution called for the Bexar County Republicans, the county represented by Speaker Joe Straus in District 121, to support a change of leadership in the Texas House speakership because of the lack of support for the Republican Platform of Texas (RPT) by the incumbent.

After rules were worked out to allow the resolutions to be voted on, the majority of the approx. 65 members estimated at 60% of the eligible members in attendance, voted to adopt the resolutions. While there was a lively discussion among the Republicans present, it was clear that for many of the precinct chairs, there is a growing awareness that the Speaker of the House does not share many of the conservative principles our party delegates (over 5,700) affirmed, voted for, and recorded as the state party’s platform at the last state Republican convention.

Despite the efforts of a columnist for the local liberal paper (apparently a fan of Joe Straus’ liberal political tactics) who highlighted the Bexar County committee meeting last Monday to paint the vote censuring Straus as symbolic, embarrassing for the party, and the work of a small group, there is a growing number of disgruntled Republicans all over the state whose eyes are now wide open, becoming increasingly disturbed by the performance of Speaker Straus as the Republican leader of the House who’s more comfortable caucusing with Democrats and liberal Republicans.  The divide is growing into Grand Canyon proportions not only in Straus’ own backyard but in other districts around the state. The precinct chairman who made the motion told me that other counties have contacted him about proposing similar resolutions.

The case against Joe Straus’ tactics and poor performance as the head of the Republican caucus in the Texas State House is growing with his tenure as Speaker. While I’ve pointed out a few examples from the 2017 regular session, there’s much more.

In 2015 Straus and his powerful surrogate, chairman of the State Affairs Committee, Byron Cook, stripped an ethics bill supported by Gov. Abbott and conservatives in the Texas Senate to rein in public officials’ influence peddling as insiders, instead substituting regulations to suppress the speech of churches and civic groups. Gov. Abbott would later call those policies “unconstitutional.”

According to an Austin watchdog group (admittedly no friend of Straus), Speaker Straus has a long record of obstructing the conservative agenda of Republican Governors under whom he’s served:

“Straus’s (surrogate) State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook refused to hold a vote on SB 1968, a bill strongly promoted by the Republican Party of Texas. The bill would have ended collusion between government bureaucracies and public employee labor unions by preventing governments from automatically deducting labor union dues from employees’ paychecks.”

“A bill designed to increase parental choice in education by offering charitable tax credits to small businesses, SB 4, was killed in the House Ways and Means Committee after it was passed out of the Texas Senate. In the House, the bill was not even given a hearing.”

“A constitutional amendment, SJR 12, which would have ended all diversions of gas taxes away from roads passed out of the Senate almost unanimously. It died in the House when Straus’s Calendars Committee refused to allow representatives to vote on the measure.”

Why does Joe Straus get elected as speaker again and again?

He was first elected Speaker in 2009 by all the Democrats and a liberal “gang of nine” Republicans. Not only is the liberal press enamored with Joe Straus, they’re joined by Democratic Party leaders:

In 2015, Straus was reelected with the unanimous support of the Democrats in the House. Republicans who supported his opponent were blocked from major committee appointments. Liberal Republican allies and Democrats were awarded choice positions on the most powerful committees. Republicans who do not support his speakership are severely punished.

“Liberal Democrat Joaquin Castro said at a press conference that he ‘can’t think of a better person to lead us…’ than Joe Straus. 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.” (SpeakerStraus.com)

Joe Straus had a voting record as a state representative starting in 2005. He voted to expand the exemptions for late term abortions in 2005. (SB 419, RV 672, 79th Legislature) Straus was given the highest rating (100%) by NARAL, the National Pro-Abortion organization in 2005, 2007;  a low 50% approval rating from Texas Right to Life in 2005. He voted in favor of approving homosexuals and bisexuals as foster parents in 2005. (SB 6, RV 328, 79th Legislature)

“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.” (SpeakerStraus.com)

Final Note

Texas has been a Republican-dominated state. We have a Republican Governor and Lieutenant Governor and a majority of Republicans in the state Senate and House of Representatives. We have a state Republican platform. Our political leaders, if they are truly Republican, share common conservative principles and values as enunciated in the party’s mission statement:  ‘To promote a conservative philosophy of government”; and a set of conservative principles: “The Republican philosophy is a true reflection of traditional Texas values. It is these core Republican principles that will sustain Texas into the future and continue to make our State strong, prosperous and proud.” (See overview of our conservative principles.)

The Speaker of the House and his close allies in the House must stop obstructing the agenda of the Governor and Lt. Governor. We elected them to represent us to get our work done which they promised in their campaigns. 5,700 delegates at the Republican convention last year voted for a set of platform planks. Speaker Straus must build bridges to link arms with the Governor and Lt. Governor in the special session, not continue to destroy bridges. The division and so-called “deep divide” can only be rectified when the dysfunctional leadership in the House is corrected. The main reason the Governor called the special session has much to do with the poor performance and obstructionist tactics of Speaker Joe Straus and his surrogates.

What You Can Do

Contact Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to let them know you fully support their agenda for the legislative special session. Contact Speaker Straus’ office and ask him to support the legislative agenda of the Governor and Lt. Governor during the summer special session. Contact your Republican representatives to demand they support the Governor’s twenty legislative agenda items.

Governor Abbott’s (20) 2017 Legislative Special Session Agenda

Ensure  privacy in the use of multi-occupancy showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and changing rooms to preserve the natural family and the long-established scientific understanding of gender.

Empower parents of children with special needs or educational disadvantages to choose an educational provider that is best for their child.

Prohibit state or local government entities from deducting labor union or employee organization membership fees or dues from the wages of public employees.

Prohibit financial transactions between a governmental entity and an abortion provider or affiliate of the abortion provider.

Restrict health plan and health benefit plan coverage for abortions.

Strengthen the laws applicable to the reporting of abortions and abortion complications to the Department of State Health Services.

Enhance patient protections contained in the procedures and requirements for do-not-resuscitate orders.

Enhance the detection, prosecution, and elimination of mail-in ballot fraud.

Reform the laws governing ad valorem property taxes.

Use population growth and inflation to establish a spending limit for state government.

Use population growth and inflation to establish a spending limit for political subdivisions.

Protect the private property rights of land owners from political subdivision rules, regulations, or ordinances that interfere with, delay, or restrict private property owners’ ability to use or enjoy their property.

Expedite the issuance of permits by political subdivisions and reforming the laws governing the issuance of permits by political subdivisions.

Prevent political subdivisions from imposing on private property additional or enhanced regulations that did not exist at the time the property was acquired.

Reform the authority of municipalities to annex territory, to exert control over territory, or to regulate the use of annexed land or land in a municipality’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Increase the average salary and benefits of Texas teachers; and legislation to provide a more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers.

Establish a statewide commission to study and recommend improvements to the current public school finance system.

Legislation preempting local regulation of the use of hand-held mobile communication devices while driving.

Continue the operation and expand the duties of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force to ensure action is taken to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Texas.

Adjust the scheduling of Sunset Commission review of state agencies.

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