Lame duck Speaker Joe Straus isn’t going quietly.
The retiring House leader and his chief strategist, Gordon Johnson, are persuading deep-pocketed lobbyists to bankroll like-minded candidates in more than two-dozen legislative races next year, according to the Capitol Inside website.
Straus’ initiative was unveiled after the conservative New Leadership PAC, announced $100,000 bounties for candidates to defeat the speaker’s allies.
Straus’s battle plan and fundraising pitch reportedly were rolled out by Johnson, a longtime high-profile lobbyist to business establishment friends of the speaker.
The objective: Maintain moderates control of the House, where Straus has blocked bills backed by Gov. Greg Abbott and which also passed by the Texas Senate.
The Texas Monitor asked both Straus and Johnson for comment. We will update this story when we receive a response.
The speaker’s electoral initiative, as plotted by Johnson, aims to protect 22 Straus loyalists and to win a handful of open seats.
The highest priority group reportedly includes Reps. Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, Scott Cosper of Killeen, Sarah Davis of Houston, Wayne Faircloth of Galveston, Dan Flynn of Van, Lynn Stucky of Sanger, and Paul Workman of Austin. Each faces primary challenges from conservatives.
Davis’s primary opponent, Susanna Dokupil, was endorsed by Abbott this week. The governor also endorsed Workman.
In the second group are Reps. John Zerwas of Richmond, Tony Dale of Cedar Park, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Dan Huberty of Humble, Ken King of Canadian, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Chris Paddie of Marshall, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville, and Hugh Shine of Temple.
Zerwas, an announced candidate for speaker, could be moved up to the first tier if he draws a “viable challenger” before the Dec. 11 filing deadline, according to the Capitol Inside story.
Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Zerwas was singled out for criticism by the New Leadership PAC earlier this month.
“[He] appears to be running as the Democratic Caucus choice for speaker, which should not be acceptable for any Republican,” NLP treasurer Don Dyer told The Texas Monitor.
The third group on Straus’s incumbent protection list includes Reps. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Will Metcalf of Conroe, Walter “Four” Price of Amarillo, and John Raney of College Station.
At least six candidates running in open races will get “massive muscle” from Straus’s efforts according to Capitol Inside.
Clint Bedsole of Frisco, Cynthia Flores of Round Rock, Sam Harless of Houston, Cody Harris of Palestine, John Payton of Plano, and Reggie Smith of Sherman. Charlie Lauersdorf of Garland and Jim Phaup of Sunnyvale reportedly are listed as “worthy choices” in a Dallas-area race that won’t have an incumbent on the ballot.
Straus’s Alamo Heights seat, which he will vacate at the end of 2018, is not on the list.
“Team Corruption just named their starting lineup,” Dyer said. “They have announced to the world which state representatives have been bought and paid for.”
Even before hitting up lobbyists for campaign cash, Straus has $10 million in unspent political funds he can direct to state contests. The veteran lawmaker reportedly offered to refund contributions from a fundraiser that was scheduled before his retirement announcement last month.
“It appears he is not giving up his grip over the House without a fight,” Dyer said.
[This article first appeared in The Texas Monitor on November 17, 2017]
Kenric Ward is a veteran journalist whose work has appeared at Fox News, Houston Chronicle, Washington Times, Washington Examiner, TownHall, Roll Call, and Human Events. An editor and reporter at three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Ward was Virginia bureau chief for Watchdog.org before relocating to Texas.