Two weeks ago something momentous happened at the local Republican Party meeting in San Antonio. The Bexar County GOP county executive committee, mostly made up of the front line party activists known as precinct chairpersons, held a quarterly meeting when a member raised his hand to make a motion that the committee members pass a resolution to support Governor Greg Abbott’s agenda for the legislative special session with emphasis on the Texas Privacy Act (crudely labeled the “bathroom bill” by everyone in the media) and to replace the Republican Speaker of the House, Representative Joe Straus (R- District 121), due to his lack of support for the Republican Party of Texas Platform.
What happened next was clear evidence of the deep divide in the Republican Party of Texas from top to bottom, starting with the home district of Speaker Joe Straus, who represents part of Bexar County. Actually the political divide in the state party leadership manifested itself publicly during the regular biennial legislative session earlier this year that ended in May. Pitted on one side were the Governor and Lt. Governor and Straus as the antagonistic Speaker of the House on the other. Legislative bills rolled out of the upper chamber of the Senate and stopped cold in the lower chamber by the Speaker and his surrogates. The battle lines were clearly drawn between the Governor and Speaker even before the start of the summer session on July 18th.
The Bexar County Republican precinct chairs who reside in the county Speaker Joe Straus represents, voted to adopt a resolution to support the Governor’s agenda for the summer session, 56 out of 64 total, a whopping 88% majority. In the second resolution to support the replacement of the Republican Speaker of the House, the majority (59%) of the precinct chairs at the meeting voted to oust Straus as Speaker.
In response to snide remarks from the liberal press implying that the vote was insignificant, they should be reminded that there was a quorum of members, so the vote was taken. Attendance that night, I would say as precinct chair, was par for the course. It is insulting to suggest that the votes taken were irrelevant and I will soon explain why. Considering Speaker Straus likened the Governor’s special session agenda to “horse manure” at a San Antonio event hosted last month by the association of Texas public school boards, it appears while his public school administrator friends found the remark amusing, his Republican confreres in the local party who actively work to promote and do the party’s grassroots work in his district did not.
The news spread around the state and nation faster than a wind-whipped Southern California fire in July. But interestingly and disappointingly, the Bexar County Republican Party chairman, Robert Stovall, downplayed the vote, the local paper reporting Stovall’s position as “opposed (to) the anti-Straus resolution and chalked it up to a small but vocal group asserting itself”. Furthermore, according to Stovall, “Most of them don’t live in his district. I don’t think it represents the perspective of the party.”
Straus’ spokesman, Jason Embry reacted to the Bexar County vote saying the Speaker “understands that voicing concerns about harmful bathroom bills is unpopular with some, but he was elected to act in the best interest of District 121 and the state of Texas.”
I find Stovall’s argument disingenuous. Does he believe only the precinct chairs who are in Straus’ district have standing to vote or censure the Speaker? His role and responsibilities impact all of us because he is the SPEAKER, the leader of the House members who represent the whole state! Straus’ spokesman confirmed that fact. Straus manages the legislative agenda in the House and appoints committee chairmen and committee members, has the final say in the legislation the House prioritizes, passes, amends, or kills. Let us not forget that the reason he gets elected as Speaker over and over again is because all the House Democrats and a minority of liberal Republicans vote for him. It’s also revealing that Embry, the Straus spokesman, did not mention that Straus is a Republican whose values should be in accord with the Republican Party Platform. His statement on behalf of Straus should have delighted his Democrat allies. If Straus’ reelection as Speaker was up to the 5,700 delegates in the Republican convention last year who voted for the conservative Texas platform, his fate, I suspect would be very different.
I decided to test Chairman Stovall’s theory that the repudiation of Speaker Straus by his own Republican grassroots leaders who represent the city where he resides amidst growing discontent around the state with his leadership as the Republican Speaker of the House was limited to a few voices in the local party. (Full disclosure – this writer is a precinct chair who attended and voted in the committee meeting on July 10th.)
Along with a few other precinct chairs who approved a follow up survey to canvass all the precinct chairs, a brief and informal online survey of all the Republican precinct chairs in Bexar County was developed. The survey ran for four days. A small margin of error was minimized in the survey results (former precinct chairs on the mail list were deleted). The results were not too surprising.
A third of the 244 precinct chairs voted online. Any professional political polling organization will tell you that a sample size of over 30% is virtually a sure indicator that if 100% of the participants responded, the results would be the same. I checked with a local polling professional who agreed. Each day the online survey ran, the percentages grew larger. The final tally provided evidence contrary to Robert Stovall’s assumptions (and the liberal press) which were incorrect. In both instances when Republican Bexar County precinct chairs were surveyed concerning their views on two key political issues, that is, from the standing vote at the meeting followed by the online survey, the majority voted to support the Governor’s legislative agenda (92 precinct chairs in total) and the ouster of Speaker Straus (70 total).
91% of the precinct chairs who responded to the online survey, combining those who voted at the meeting and those who did not attend the committee meeting reported that they support the Governor’s agenda while 71% of the precinct chairs who were not at the meeting reported that they support replacing Straus as Speaker of the House.
Both times when surveyed, the majority vote was for supporting the Governor and replacing Speaker Straus.
Since Bexar County passed the first resolution on July 10th, other Republican counties have followed suit including Smith, Atascosa, Dewitt, and Real Counties. Smith County Republicans have developed a sample resolution for other counties to adopt.
Bexar County Republican Precinct Chairmen are in the process of gathering signatures to send the Governor a letter of appreciation and support for his leadership in completing the work the voters of Texas are expecting our Republican leaders to accomplish in the special session. If you support the Governor and Lt. Governor, please send them a word of encouragement and let them know we’re all praying for them.