With a special legislative session he has little use for just days off, House Speaker Joe Straus got a vote of no confidence from the San Antonio Republican Party Monday night.
On a 36 to 28 vote, the executive committee of the Bexar County GOP approved a resolution, “that there should be a change in leadership in the Texas House House speakership due to the non-support of the Republican Party of Texas platform by the current incumbent.”
The resolution followed approval of another resolution expressing support for Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for a special session that commences next Tuesday, with an emphasis on a “bathroom bill,” intended to keep transgender individuals from using public restrooms — or, in a narrower version, public school restroooms — that do not correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. The legislation has been championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, backed by Abbott and loathed by Straus.
The surprise resolution on Straus came at a relatively sparsely attended meeting of the executive committee, which is made up of the 244 sitting precinct chairs. There are altogether 712 precincts in the county, but most of the chairmanships are unfilled.
Nonetheless the vote is another sign of the spot Straus finds himself in leading the House in a special session that Patrick very much wanted and that Gov. Greg Abbott acceded to but then made his own with a 20-item agenda including many issues near and dear to the hearts of the conservative grassroots of the Texas Republican party.
Reacting to the vote, Straus spokesman Jason Embry said, “Speaker Straus 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.”
“Speaker Straus won last year’s Republican primary in District 121 by 32 points and appreciates the strong support he continues to receive in the district he represents,” Embry said. Straus was elected speaker unanimously in January, and is serving his fifth term, tying the record for longevity of a Texas House speaker.
But Patty Gibbons, a precinct chair from Harmony Hills, a neighborhood in Straus’ district, said Tuesday that she thought last night’s vote reflected broader sentiment among San Antonio Republicans that, amid recent local losses for more conservative candidates in the mayoral and city council races, Straus is proving an obstacle and not an advocate for Texas Republican values as enshrined in the party platform adopted every two years at its state convention.
Gibbons said that the vote for the resolution was a breakthrough moment for Bexar County conservatives over what she describes as the resistance of county Chair Robert Stovall.
“I call this an epic meeting,” Gibbons said.
Opponents of the resolution argued it would reveal divisions within the party and help Democrats, but Gibbons replied at the meeting, “This isn’t infighting. This democracy. Democracy is messy.”
The party platform tends to be the handiwork of the party’s most committed conservative activists, and, its’ most recent statement of principles begins: “We, the 2016 Republican Party of Texas, believe in this platform and expect our elected leaders to uphold these truths through acknowledgement and action.”
But Embry said that the speaker’s critics tend to have a selective dedication to the platform.
“While it may be difficult to find anyone who agrees with 100 percent of the party platform, nobody has worked harder than Speaker Straus to enact plank 120 in the platform, which says `school districts that have an adequate tax base should be free to manage their finances without any state recapture of local funds. Those districts that do not have sufficient tax base should be provided resources from general state revenues to meet the Texas Constitution’s requirement of an efficient system of public free schools.’”
“Speaker Straus looks forward to taking action in the upcoming special session on school finance and other issues important to the state of Texas,” Embry said.
The vote on the resolution was first reported by Jason Vaughn in The Hayride, an on-line site for conservative commentary on Southern politics and culture based in Louisiana.