The Texas mainstream media reported last week how a well-funded political action committee is targeting Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and allies. What the articles failed to report, however, is the degree to which three sessions of Straus leadership has left conservatives viewing the speaker as an obstructionist to conservative legislation supported by Texans – from the “well-funded” to grassroots organizations to independent voters – across the state. Also unmentioned, efforts focused on Straus’ record, conduct and leadership are hardly new.
Here’s how the San Antonio Express-News kicked off its coverage:
A political action committee bolstered by six-figure contributions from University of Texas regent Wallace Hall and Gov. Rick Perry adviser Jeff Sandefer is pumping money into a slate of candidates opposing House Speaker Joe Straus and some of his top lieutenants.
Accountability First surfaced in February 2013 as an obscure PAC, crusading against municipal and school bond elections across the state.
But with the March 4 primary approaching, Accountability First is shifting its strategy to target more than two dozen Texas House races — including those involving two of Straus’ closest allies: Reps. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.
It’s the latest in a round of efforts by a group of powerful political players, mostly aligned with the extreme conservative wing of the Texas Republican Party, to try to topple Straus and his allies.
In this case, an embattled University of Texas regent facing potential impeachment under a Straus-directed investigation and his influential supporter who’s a prominent advocate for higher-education reform are among a handful of deep-pocketed donors funding the effort.
“This is different from a PAC which may represent thousands of people around the state. This is the definition of a special interest with a few wealthy individuals who have a specific agenda with respect to policy,” said Cook, chairman of the State Affairs Committee. “Their position seems to be as long as you’re in leadership, we’re against you.”
The effort to thwart school referendums was mostly funded with smaller donations, compared to the money flowing to the PAC now. Before late September, Accountability First never had received more than $30,000 in a single reporting period.
A small team of donors with big pockets since has emerged.
While the Express-News noted these “powerful political players” aligned with the “extreme conservative wing of the Texas Republican Party,” a similarly-themed AP article discussed how “money to Accountability First is backing more than two dozen Republican House candidates—mostly newcomers—whose victories would further push the 150-member chamber to the far right.”
The article additionally notes:
Straus has been speaker since 2009 but has long frustrated ultra-conservatives, who blast him as moderate and criticize his appointees who chair powerful House committees.
Not surprisingly, last year’s launch of Battleground Texas, also a political action committee but this one tasked with helping the Texas Democratic Party “turn Texas blue,” brought more tempered descriptions:
Spearheaded by organizers of Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 — when Republican nominee Mitt Romney handily carried the Lone Star State — a new push, called “Battleground Texas,” officially launched Tuesday with the goal of seizing shifting demographics to make the state eventually winnable for a Democratic presidential candidate.
Organizers are not, however, projecting when that might happen. Nor are they saying how much money they will need to raise and spend to give Democrats a fighting chance in Texas, where the party hasn’t won a statewide office since 1994.
Predictably, no mention of deep-pocketed trial lawyers, extreme liberals, ultra-radical leftists.
So with this reminder of the media’s ideological reporting bent, why are conservatives so put off with Straus?
With the start of the 2013 legislative session, Texas Conservative Republican News provided a recap of Straus’ policy stances and scorecard ratings. The site reminded how Straus’ 2009 speaker election was based on votes of the entire Democratic caucus and 11 moderate Republicans who became known as the “Gang of 11.”
In the speaker position, Straus is seen as having punished conservatives who are openly non-supportive of his leadership. Punishment methods included redistricting some representatives out of GOP-friendly districts. Other tactics have included limiting his detractors’ committee assignments as well as ensuring legislation authored by those detractors is stalled by Straus-friendly committee chairs.
Straus’ hostility toward conservatives became evident in late 2012 when RedState.com Editor Erick Erickson exposed demeaning, disrespectful e-mail comments attributed to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus’ senior staff and allies and aimed at conservative legislators and activists.
In Private Emails From Texas Speaker Joe Straus’s Office Reveal War Against Conservatives, Erickson reported:
Tea party activists are called “idiots,” allies of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton are called “mother f***ers,” and decorated U.S. Marine and State Rep. Van Taylor is dismissed as “stupid,” by a top Straus political strategist.
Former state Rep. Wayne Christian was one of the legislators mentioned in the emails. He was also a Straus casualty redistricted out of office and is now a candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission.
In the 2011 legislative session, Christian unsuccessfully introduced a bill seeking to eliminate the “pledge card” system, a system by which House members are required to submit written pledges of loyalty to a House leadership candidate. Per Christian, this process starts with contacting newly elected legislators on election night.
It has been a source of concern for conservatives prompting one grassroots organization, Women On The Wall™, to produce a series of “Speaker Showdown” videos while a coalition of grassroots leaders circulated a letter calling for an end to this practice.
The letter noted:
Supporters of the “pledge card” system argue, among other things, that it is a time-honored process that maintains stability and continuity in House affairs from one session to the next. Critics of the pledge card system argue that it is nothing more than a mechanism for conveniently perpetuating the “good old boy network” in the State Capitol.
Straus did retain the speakership both that session and in 2013, but not without contention and controversy.
And for 2015, Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, has already announced his intention to challenge the speaker.
Erickson concluded that 2012 RedState.com piece saying:
These emails appear to me to be just the tip of the iceberg. Straus is a known liberal who was empowered predominantly by Democrats, and has held on to power through threats and intimidation. Conservatives in Texas have been fighting back; the question now is whether House Republicans in Texas will do what they have been elected to do… and stand up against Straus.
If you live in Texas, make sure your representative knows what to do.
Yet to the mainstream media, it still is news.