Bexar County Republicans Denounce House Speaker Joe Straus

click to enlarge Bexar County Republicans Denounce House Speaker Joe Straus
With only a week before the Texas Legislature kicks off its special session, the Republican Party of Bexar County voted 36-28 to replace the current leader of the state House, San Antonio Rep. Joe Straus.

The resolution voted on Monday evening cites the "non-support of the RPT [Republican Party of Texas] platform by the current incumbent" as reasoning for calling for Straus' removal. Not coincidently, the group also voted in support of Gov. Greg Abbott's special session agenda, underscoring the importance of passing what Republicans call the "privacy act." The rest of the public knows this as the "bathroom bill," a measure that would prohibit transgender Texans from using any public bathroom that matches their gender identity (most of these bathrooms are in schools).

Straus ended the regular session in a dramatic stalemate with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick over the contentious Senate Bill 6, refusing to let the Senate's version pass through the House as-is. Instead, state representatives tweaked the bill to mandate schools create single-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms. Patrick, however, rejected the House's watered-down version of his SB 6. Far more reserved than talk radio veteran Patrick, Straus spent most of the session dodging questions about the bill. Until the very last week.

"For many of us — and especially for me — this was a compromise,” Straus told reporters at a May 26 press conference, referring to the House's version of the bill. “As far as I’m concerned, it was enough. We will go no further. This is the right thing to do in order to protect our economy from billions of dollars in losses and more importantly to protect the safety of some very vulnerable young Texans.”

In a July 10 New Yorker article, Straus went further, saying that when he received the final text of SB 6 he told the Senator who delivered it to his office: “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands."

This kind of opposition to Patrick's ultra-conservative SB 6, a bill the Bexar County Republicans voted to support in the July 18 special session, is probably why the group soured to the longtime House Speaker. Despite being unanimously reelected to lead the House in January, Straus has made enemies in the capitol's far-right contingent this past session. While Bexar Republicans were voting against the House leader Monday, conservative state lawmakers shared similar concerns at a Tarrant County Tea Party meeting.

"Leadership in the Texas House failed you this session," Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Arlington Republican, told the crowd Monday night, according to Texas Tribune reporter Cassi Pollock.  Asked if he'll reelect Rep. Straus next session, Tinderholt replied, "I'm hoping he's gone in the next few weeks."

The GOP's rejection of Straus for not being conservative enough marks a growing divide in the state Republican party — one that pits the more traditional Texas Republicans against the state lawmakers who rode in on the 2009 Tea Party wave. Or, Straus versus Patrick.

But Bexar County Republicans' chair Patty Gibbons, who live-streamed the anti-Straus vote on Facebook, doesn't see a split.

"This is not infighting," she told her fellow party members during the vote. "This is democracy! Democracy is messy."


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