Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image


Speaker Straus not running for re-election

A bombshell no one saw coming.

Rep. Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election in 2018, a decision that has the potential to upend the political balance of power in the state.

Straus, who has lately been the most powerful moderate Republican in the Texas Capitol, said he will serve until the end of his term. That means there will be a new speaker when the Legislature next convenes in 2019.

His decision will immediately set in motion a scrum for control of the House, pitting arch-conservative members who have opposed Straus against more centrist Republicans. Within hours, one of Straus’ top lieutenants, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced that he had filed to run for the speaker’s post. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has already announced he is running. Other candidates are expected to jump in.

Straus has clashed with hardline conservatives in recent years, not least Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Tea Party leaders and their allies have blamed Straus for killing controversial measures backed by the far right, most notably a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year,” Straus said in a campaign email. “My time as a State Representative and as Speaker will end at the conclusion of my current term.”


Asked if he planned to run for any other office in the future, Straus said he is “not one to close doors.” He acknowledged he has received encouragement to run for other offices and did not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial bid. But he said he doubts he will be on the ballot in 2018.

As for the race to succeed him as speaker, Straus suggested he would not get involved.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who aren’t members in the Legislature in the next session to really register an opinion on that,” Straus said.

The announcement immediately set into motion speculation about the future of Straus’ top lieutenants. One of his closest allies, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who is chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said in a statement first reported by Quorum Report that he “will pursue other opportunities to serve our great state.”

Straus made his announcement on Facebook, which if you have a feed like mine immediately took over everything. This came as a big surprise, because just last month Straus was urging business leaders to keep up the fight against bathroom bills and other such harmful proposals, and two weeks ago he formed the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to push pro-growth policies. I doubt it had occurred to anyone that he himself might walk away at this time, but if a young, scandal-free first-term US Senator can say “screw it, I’ve had enough”, then nothing like this should surprise us. Indeed, as Ross Ramsey notes, this will almost surely presage a lot more retirements. Get ready for it.

As to what happens next, I’m not going to panic or despair, at least not yet. For one thing, like Christopher Hooks, I’m a little wary of the hagiography coming from my fellow travelers over Straus’ legislative career.

Liberals have never quite figured out what to make of the man. On one hand, it’s undoubtedly true that Straus was a bulwark against the new populist tendencies of the Texas GOP. He and allies such as Byron Cook, who is also retiring, stopped a metric ton of junk legislation that would have passed with a different speaker. When considering the question of why Texas has fared generally better than similarly red states like Louisiana and Kansas, which are on fire, Straus and the conditions that created Straus are a significant part of the answer. He’s the last person in state government who seems to care about governing as a concept.

But out of that fact emerged too a picture of Straus as a sort of Aaron Sorkin character, a paternal figure with an unnaturally rosy image and a passing resemblance to Gregg Popovich, typified by the mythic representation of Straus’ bathroom bill showdown with Patrick in a recent New Yorker article. There is an element of Stockholm Syndrome in that, as if Straus was the jailer who always asks about your kids. Among other things, the House of Straus passed many of its own pieces of junk legislation — voter ID, loads of anti-abortion laws, etc. — and served at times as a trough for the lobby. Straus and his lieutenants often declined to water down bad legislation, including, spectacularly the state’s “show your papers” law. The Capitol debate over what Straus personally wants, and when his hand is being “forced,” is as long and storied as it is useless to ordinary Texans.

Straus isn’t Jeff Flake or Bob Corker — he’s been staying true to some version of his principles since he was elected speaker, not just recently. But it’s also worth wondering why a person who places so much emphasis on good government is willing to abandon his post, possibly to another Republican in the mold of Dan Patrick or Donald Trump. A tremendous amount now depends on whether a Straus-type successor can be elected speaker.

For sure, we could have done much worse than Straus – we had already done much worse, under Tom Craddick – and we could do much worse going forward. I’m just suggesting that we maintain a bit of perspective here. Going forward, a Speaker Zerwas would be more or less the same as Speaker Straus was, while a Speaker King would basically be Speaker Craddick minus the Craddick Dems. The way to enhance the odds of the former is for more Democrats to win legislative races next year, especially against wingnuts in swing districts like Matt Rinaldi. Perhaps the Texas Association of Business, who helped give us Speaker Craddick in 2002, might get involved in a few Republican primaries if they’d like to see Straus’ legacy live on. There are concrete things that can be done to ensure a better outcome, is what I’m saying. That’s where I’d put my energy if this news is distressing to me. The Chron, RG Ratcliffe, the Current, and the DMN have more.

Precinct analysis: The targets for 2018

Ross Ramsey recently surveyed the 2018 electoral landscape.

Election numbers recently released by the Texas Legislative Council point to some soft spots in this red state’s political underbelly — places where Republicans hold office now but where Democrats at the top of the ticket have recently done well.

Specifically, they are the districts where Republicans won federal or state legislative races in 2016 while the same voters electing them were choosing Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump.

Trump won Texas, but not by as much as Republicans normally do.

The non-prediction here is that every single one of these officeholders might win re-election next time they’re on the ballot.

On the other hand, a political fishing guide, in this instance, would tell you that these are districts Democrats should examine if they’re trying to win seats in the congressional delegation or in the Texas Senate or House.

We covered some of this before, when the Senate district data came out. In that spirit, I’ve put together a list of all reasonably competitive State House districts, which follows below. Many of these will be familiar to you, but there are a few new ones in there. First, all districts by Presidential numbers:

Dist  Clinton   Trump  Clint%  Trump%   Obama  Romney  Obama%  Romney%
134    50,043  35,983   54.7%   39.3%  34,731  46,926   41.7%    56.4%
102    30,291  24,768   52.3%   42.7%  24,958  29,198   45.3%    53.0%
114    35,259  29,221   52.1%   43.2%  28,182  35,795   43.5%    55.2%
105    25,087  20,979   52.1%   43.6%  20,710  23,228   46.5%    52.1%
115    30,897  26,158   51.5%   43.6%  23,353  29,861   43.2%    55.3%
108    39,584  34,622   50.3%   44.0%  27,031  40,564   39.3%    59.0%
113    27,532  26,468   49.1%   47.2%  23,893  27,098   46.3%    52.5%
112    26,735  26,081   48.3%   47.1%  22,308  28,221   43.5%    55.0%
138    24,706  24,670   47.6%   47.5%  18,256  27,489   39.3%    59.2%
136    37,324  35,348   46.7%   44.2%  26,423  35,296   41.2%    55.1%

135    28,233  29,486   46.6%   48.6%  21,732  32,078   39.8%    58.8%
047    48,658  48,838   46.5%   46.7%  34,440  50,843   39.3%    58.0%
065    28,774  30,078   46.1%   48.1%  22,334  31,456   40.8%    57.5%
066    33,412  35,728   45.5%   48.7%  24,895  40,639   37.4%    61.0%
026    31,636  35,022   45.5%   50.4%  22,554  39,595   35.9%    62.9%
132    31,489  34,495   45.4%   49.7%  21,214  31,432   39.8%    58.9%
052    32,184  33,185   45.3%   46.7%  23,849  30,763   42.4%    52.7%
045    34,468  38,038   44.2%   48.8%  26,757  35,298   41.8%    55.2%

067    33,461  37,741   43.9%   49.5%  24,866  40,763   37.2%    60.9%
054    23,624  27,379   43.6%   50.5%  21,909  25,343   45.7%    52.9%
043    22,716  27,549   43.6%   52.9%  22,554  25,017   46.9%    52.0%
121    33,956  40,371   42.7%   50.8%  27,422  44,391   37.5%    60.7%
126    26,483  32,607   42.7%   52.6%  21,191  35,828   36.7%    62.1%
097    29,525  36,339   42.1%   51.8%  25,869  39,603   38.9%    59.6%

They’re grouped into districts that Clinton carried, districts where Clinton was within five points, and districts where she was within ten. The Obama/Romney numbers are there to add a little context, and to show where the most movement was. Some of these are in places you may not expect. HD136 is in Williamson County, as is HD52. HD 65 is in Denton, with HDs 66 and 67 in Collin. HD97 is in Tarrant. Note that while there were some big swings towards Clinton, not all of these districts were more favorable to Dems in 2016, with HD43 (held by turnout Republican JM Lozano) being the clearest exception. And a few of these are little more than optical illusions caused by deep-seated Trump loathing among a subset of Republicans. HD121 is Joe Straus’ district. It’s not going to be in play for the Dems in 2018. I would suggest, however, that the weak showing for Trump in Straus’ district is a big part of the reason why Straus is less amenable to Dan Patrick’s arguments about things like the bathroom bill and vouchers than many other Republicans. There are a lot fewer Republicans from the Dan Patrick wing of the party in Joe Straus’ district.

And because I’ve repeatedly said that we can’t just look at Presidential numbers, here are the numbers from the two three-way Court of Criminal Appeals races, which I have used before as a shorthand of true partisan leanings:

Dist    Burns Keasler  Burns%  Keasl% Hampton  Keller  Hampt%  Keller%
105    23,012  21,842   49.0%   46.5%  19,580  21,745   45.8%    50.8%
113    25,411  26,940   46.4%   49.2%  22,651  25,693   45.6%    51.7%
115    26,876  28,999   45.8%   49.4%  21,431  28,402   41.5%    55.0%
134    39,985  44,560   45.4%   50.6%  33,000  42,538   42.3%    54.5%
102    26,096  28,210   45.3%   49.1%  23,232  27,295   44.3%    52.1%
043    21,812  25,213   44.3%   51.2%  21,565  22,434   47.5%    49.4%
112    23,798  27,901   43.9%   51.4%  20,942  26,810   42.4%    54.3%
135    25,998  31,365   43.7%   52.8%  20,745  30,922   39.2%    58.4%
138    22,119  26,669   43.6%   52.6%  17,470  26,224   38.9%    58.4%
114    28,774  35,129   43.3%   52.8%  26,441  33,128   43.1%    53.9%
136    32,436  37,883   42.7%   49.9%  23,925  32,484   39.3%    53.3%
132    29,179  36,667   42.7%   53.6%  20,237  30,515   38.9%    58.6%
065    26,010  32,772   42.4%   53.4%  20,732  30,377   39.1%    57.3%
052    28,698  34,976   42.2%   51.4%  21,947  28,562   40.8%    53.1%
054    22,114  27,979   42.0%   53.1%  20,110  24,571   43.5%    53.2%
045    31,530  39,309   41.7%   52.0%  24,897  32,734   40.6%    53.3%
026    28,138  38,544   41.0%   56.2%  21,232  38,332   34.8%    62.8%
047    41,032  54,388   40.5%   53.7%  32,028  47,181   38.1%    56.1%
126    24,261  34,679   39.8%   56.8%  20,309  34,351   36.3%    61.3%
108    30,706  42,923   39.6%   55.4%  24,685  37,529   38.1%    57.9%
066    27,709  39,675   39.5%   56.6%  22,409  37,693   36.0%    60.6%
067    28,298  40,926   38.9%   56.7%  22,539  37,932   35.8%    60.3%
097    26,454  39,254   38.5%   57.2%  23,967  37,732   37.6%    59.2%
121    28,995  43,743   38.0%   57.3%  25,683  42,350   36.5%    62.0%

Clearly, this is a much less optimistic view of the situation than the first table. I am certain that some anti-Trump Republicans will be willing to consider voting against a Trump surrogate next year, but it’s way too early to say how many of these people there are, and we need to know what the baseline is in any event. Note that even in some of the less-competitive districts, there was a big swing towards the Dems, most notably in HD26 but also in HDs 115, 135, 138, and 66. It may be that some of these districts won’t be competitive till 2020, and it may be that some will need a real dampening of Republican enthusiasm to be on the board. But whatever the case, these are the districts where I would prioritize recruitment efforts and promises of logistical support.

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:


“Visit to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.