The Long And Winding Road to the Censure of Speaker Joe Straus

On July 10th, at a Republican Party of Bexar County Executive Committee meeting, Precinct Chair Mike O’Donnell stood up and made a motion for the assembly to adopt a resolution to replace the Speaker of the House for his “lack of support for the platform of the Republican Party of Texas”. At that meeting there was a quorum of members (minimum 25% of the body) and a majority who voted to adopt a resolution to replace the Speaker.

As the news spread throughout Texas about Bexar County’s resolution, other counties quickly jumped on the bandwagon and passed their own resolutions with the list of county parties and Republican organizations growing to almost 80 around the state (61 county parties to date) by November.

At the time Straus and his supporters belittled the resolutions as the work of a small minority of disgruntled Tea Party right wing nuts. The state coalition of organizations who were watching Speaker Straus’  actions during the 85th and special session call were growing more alarmed by his obstructionist tactics in conjunction with his surrogates like Byron Cook who chaired the powerful State Affairs committee. Straus even had the temerity to compare the legislative priorities of Governor Abbott to a “pile of manure”.

Speaker Straus arrogantly showed his blatant disdain for the Governor and Lt. Governor by adjourning the House session a day early while ignoring a major portion of the priorities targeted by the Governor for passage.

The battle between the Governor and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick on one side and Straus on the other grew more acrimonious with the blame falling on Straus for failing to pass major legislation on property tax reform, a modest school choice program for disabled children, blocking taxpayer funding of abortion, untangling government agencies from mandatory collection of union dues, caps on government spending, protecting the safety and privacy of women and children in public restrooms and others.

On October 9th the Bexar County executive committee was ready to propose a new resolution based on the Republican Party’s new Rule 44 adopted at the state convention last year to censure Republican leaders and officials who willfully and repeatedly act in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party of Texas. The new resolution provided hard evidence backed by  seven pages of material including videos documenting many instances of the Speaker’s obstinate actions dismissing the party’s stated principles and obstructing the legislative work of the elected members of the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately Bexar County Chairman Robert Stovall, known to be a close ally of Speaker Straus repeatedly violated established meeting rules, abusing his power as Chair to thwart the efforts of what appeared to be the majority of the members to deliberate and vote on the censure resolution, ultimately denying  multiple requests by members  to debate and vote on the resolution at the October 9th meeting.

The uproar around Texas was deafening with Republican county parties and organizations all over the state decrying the tyrannical tactics of the Straus loyalists in stifling and gagging grassroots leaders of the party.

By October 25th  Speaker Straus threw in the towel announcing at a press conference that he would not seek reelection when his term of office expires at the end of 2018.

When I polled state grassroots leaders and Bexar County executive committee members after the Speaker’s announcement and asked whether the Rule 44 censure of Speaker Straus should continue, the response was a resounding “YES”. It was clear to conservative party activists that Straus was going to continue to aggressively work in the 2018 cycle to promote candidates whom he called “responsible Republicans”. He said so at his press conference. Straus is leaving office with approximately $10 million in his campaign treasure  chest that he can spend on state races. He also did not rule out running for higher office.

What intervened between October and the December 11th meeting when Speaker Straus was officially censured by his own county party was the retirement announced by a U.S. Congressional incumbent who represents Bexar County – U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (District 21). County Chairman Robert Stovall, widely criticized for his tyrannical behavior on October 9th threw in the towel like his mentor and benefactor, Speaker Straus, announcing that he was resigning to run for U.S. Congress. The County chair was now sede vacante – a vacant chair.

Stovall called a special meeting on December 4th for the sole purpose of filling the vacant county chair as required by the state party. After appointing his heir apparent, Dwight Parscale, as vice-chair, what happened the night of the election was quite anti-climatic. There were three candidates for interim chair. The winner would lead the party for potentially  six months before the next regular election next year. The candidates were Dwight Parscale, former county chairman Curt Nelson, and Mark Dorazio. Dorazio has been one of the leaders of the Bexar County party coalition to censure Joe Straus. The vote was lopsided with Parscale winning the least, followed by Nelson, and Dorazio taking more than double the votes earned by Nelson.

New interim Chairman Mark Dorazio and the Ad Hoc group organizing the Straus Censure vote organized a special committee meeting for December 11th. Dorazio formally called the meeting which was attended by well over the 61 members needed to make a quorum (over a 100 attended).

Commentator George Rodriguez, former President of the San Antonio Tea Party, wrote the same night after the meeting:

TX Speaker Joe Straus was censured this evening, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, by his own Bexar County GOP organization for being an obstructionist to conservative state legislation in the Texas House, and for disparaging the state GOP Platform.

 A video was shown of Straus being challenged in the state House for not moving conservative pieces of legislature. The video showed undeniable evidence of his arrogance and obstructionism.

Some Straus supporters tried to defend him as a good Republican, but in the end no one could dispute his actions.

The censure brands Straus for listening to lobbyists more than the grassroots voters, and as an obstructionist to the conservative legislative agenda. It also sends a big message to rest of the GOP Establishment obstructionists.

Political opinion writer, Kenric Ward, who had observed the proceedings wrote for The Texas Monitor:

Republican leaders in Joe Straus’ home county voted to censure the retiring Texas House speaker, saying he “abused the power of his office and usurped the power of the people’s duly elected representatives.”

On a 77-21 vote Monday night, the Bexar County Executive Committee called out the San Antonio Republican under state party Rule 44. The rule applies to a party office holder who takes three or more actions during the biennium in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party and its platform.

The Bexar censure resolution accused Straus of:

Disregarding Texas House rules and unilaterally adjourning the House early on Aug. 15.

  • Repeatedly refusing to recognize proper motions and amendments.
  • Opposing a core party principle by obstructing legislation designed to protect the right to life.
  • Obstructing legislation designed to promote school choice.
  • Improperly blocking the so-called “Bathroom Bill,” designed to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of Texas women and children.

In my opinion (full disclosure  – I’ve been a member of the Ad Hoc Committee in Bexar County to censure Straus), more work is needed when we start the new year to whip up the 62 State Republican Executive Committee members to complete the process of the Rule 44 censure of Speaker Straus at their next meeting. This is the final step to adopt the Rule 44 censure. Well-known state grassroots activist leader, JoAnn Fleming of Grassroots America, has warned the SREC members that “Republican activists will be watching“. She told the  Texas Monitor:

“There is more than abundant evidence that conservative reforms found in the  Texas Republican Party Platform are repeatedly stonewalled and blocked in the Texas House by the likes of Joe Straus and Byron Cook.

“We are watching to see which SREC members really don’t care about holding GOP officials accountable and will consider them in support of Republicans governing as Democrats. I suspect such SREC members may well have challengers.”

Yes, it’s been quite a long and winding road from last summer to the chilly night of December 11th when the Bexar County party overwhelmingly passed the censure by a lopsided 77-21. There were 99 registered committee members at the start of the meeting. 65 votes were required to obtain the two thirds threshold needed to ratify and invoke the Rule 44 censure. But the Rule 44 Censure is not just about obstinate Republican officials and elected leaders thumbing their noses at the conservative grassroots members of the Republican Party from all across the state who represent the heart and soul of the party and the majority of Texans.

We stood up in Bexar County to give notice to all party establishment elitists that the Republican Party is not theirs to sell to the highest bidder or compromise for political favor or gain. It is OUR party –  the God-fearing, honest, hard-working Texans and their families who think straight, shoot straight, and don’t expect a handout  from the nanny state.

We fight and continue to fight for the protection of innocent pre-born life and the enfeebled at the end of life, for the safety and protection of women and children in public facilities understanding that there are sexually confused youth who need professional help, not acceptance of their sexual identity dysphoria which tragically often leads to genital mutilation and, sometimes, suicide.

We fight for the opportunity of parents to send their children to good schools without their families being financially penalized,  for the protection of our people from unguarded borders and illegal criminal elements and the restoration of the rule of law in our immigration policies, for the end of tyrannical intrusion of government agencies into our private lives and our unflagging commitment to the defense of our individual and religious freedoms.

Phil Sevilla is the Editor of The Alamo Torch, President of the Texas Leadership Institute for Public Advocacy, and a Republican Party of Bexar County Precinct Chair

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