The political realm of Texas was shocked this past week when Speaker of the House Joe Straus announced that he would not be running for re-election for House seat 121, a seat he has held since 2005. He had faced a number of challengers from the right but was never seriously close to being upset. He always managed to win over 60 percent of the vote in the primary. Due, in part, to his relationship with the Democratic Party of Texas that is better than most other Republicans, he did not face a Democratic challenger while in office. Straus came into the public eye and conservative notoriety when he seized the gavel in 2009 from hardline Texas conservative Tom Craddick due to his support from the entire Democratic Caucus and 11 Republicans.
While Speaker of the House, Joe Straus was known for not getting along with the conservative wing of the Republican caucus in the house. He prized bipartisanship and had a very cushy relationship with the Democrats. However, from a conservative perspective, one could argue that there was no reason for this close relationship, as the Republicans in the House had almost a supermajority for most of his tenure.
Joe Straus’ retirement from a safe Republican seat will unleash a bloody primary in House District 121. The seat’s territory is so Republican that Joe Straus never faced a Democrat in the general election. Texas Conservatives view this seat as an opportunity to prove that this is truly a red district. On the other hand, the moderates view the upcoming primary as an opportunity to bring a new young member who shares their views to the Texas House. The moderate wing of the Republican Party in Texas has lost a number of members over the past few cycles and desperately needs new faces in Austin in order to keep their wing of the party alive.
Possibly the most interesting part about Joe Straus’ decision not to run is that it means Texas will have a new speaker of the house. Texas conservatives have been dreaming of this ever since Joe Straus was elected in 2009. Straus was the last escape valve on the pressure that conservatives had been creating across the state of Texas to implement a strong conservative agenda. For the moderates, the speaker of the house represents a penultimate opportunity as they need to stop a conservative from winning the race; moderates believe that the conservative agenda will push the Republican Party too far to the right, which will result in turning the state of Texas into a purple state, or worse, a blue state.
Joe Straus’s decision will have far-reaching consequences, especially when you add into the equation that Congressman Lamar Smith has retired from the 21st Congressional District. Joe Straus is only 58 years old, and has plenty of political time left. There are rumors circulating that he is planning on running for the 21st Congressional District or for governor. As a Texas moderate, he has the option of running for governor as either a Democrat or a Republican. The Democratic party in Texas would gladly take Joe Straus as its gubernatorial candidate as it still has no serious candidates for state’s highest office. We have not seen nor heard the last of Joe Straus as a political entity. Like most political situations, there are many moving gears, and attempting to describe all of them is the equivalent of trying to properly explain a game of eight-dimensional chess. What has just happened affects American politics at the local, state and national levels. As Texas politicians love to say, “So goes Texas, so goes the nation.” With every political situation, there will be winners who will go on to write their own version of history. Next November, the start of the 2019 session will reveal the new victors.