Many of us in Texas take our local state politics for granted. After all, our state legislature only meets every two years for a brief 140 calendar days. The men and women we elect to serve as Texas Senators and Representatives are typically average citizens with regular jobs who must take a leave of absence during the months the legislature meets. This keeps our elected representatives from getting too closely involved in Texans lives and business affairs.
Unlike many other states, the Texas Speaker of the House holds a great deal of power in appointing the committee chairs and ultimately controls what bills and issues will come before the House for a vote.
Before the last legislative session, in January 2009, 11 Republicans with a majority of Democrats formed a coalition to oust the staunch conservative Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick. This bipartisan coalition then elected Joe Straus R-San Antonio, a moderate Republican who pledged to not show favoritism to his own party. Speaker Straus stayed true to his word and appointed Democrats and Republicans as powerful committee chairs.
Some will argue that Speaker Straus’ tenure in the 2009 legislative session was quite successful, as the Texas economy has remained strong and the state favorable to business. Others will point out how the Democrat committee chairs, appointed by Speaker Straus, were able to hold critical legislation hostage and ultimately kill important bills without a vote. These bills included ultrasound legislation requiring a woman presenting for an abortion to receive an ultrasound and be offered the opportunity to view the images, and a Voter ID bill requiring Texas voters to show state-issued ID before voting in an election.
For his leadership during the 2009 Legislative session, Speaker Straus received the distinction of being the only Republican in the Texas House to receive a 100% NARAL pro-abortion rating, in addition to being thanked by Planned Parenthood CEO for his “tireless efforts on behalf of Texas women and children during the last legislative session.”
Even though Texas faces some tough financial responsibilities during the new legislative session, we must not lose sight of several social issues considered by voters to be important. The March 2010 Republican Primary ballot offered voters an opportunity to indicate their level of support for specific social conservative issues. Republican primary voters in Texas supported the Ultrasound bill with 69% of the vote and overwhelmingly supported the voter photo ID proposition with 93% of the vote. The results of these ballot measures must guide our incoming Republican legislature.
In 2009, Republicans held a four-seat majority over Democrats in the Texas House; however, for the 2011 legislative session Texas voters increased that majority to 48 seats, just shy of a two-thirds majority. Those who argue we need to keep a moderate Republican speaker because he is conservative on fiscal issues are ignoring the will o the voters who spoke loud and clear at the polls in support of candidates who will vote for legislation such as Rep Debbie Riddle’s immigration bill, modeled after the AZ law, a voter ID bill, a bill prohibiting "sanctuary cities" and ultrasound legislation.
It’s time for the Texas GOP to recognize their responsibility to the voters by electing a new Speaker of the House who best represents the interests and views of the caucus and the resounding majority of Texas voters.