"There is no two ways about it: the Republican House members must caucus and unite behind a single conservative candidate for Speaker. If there is no caucus I will remain a candidate for Speaker when the Legislature meets on January 11, 2011."The "caucus" he's referring to is a proposal being supported by some conservative Republican House members that the Republican members of the House agree to meet by themselves, vote for a Speaker candidate, and agree to all vote for whoever wins that vote. This is very similar to how the Speaker of the United States Congress is selected, but is an unprecedented way to select a Speaker of the Texas House.
Frankly it would set a dangerous precedent. The current system of selecting a speaker based on the votes of the whole house insures that the person selected is, generally speaking, to the center of the ideological spectrum of the body. If one party, any party, requires it's members to vote for the party's selected candidate, rather than for the candidate members believe would best protect the priorities of their constituents, it will guarantee the election of a partisan ideologue as Speaker, rather than the statesman (or woman) the House needs to run effectively.
Original title: Chisum to Drop Out of Speakers Race, Support Paxon
The Ellis Herald reports that notorious bigot Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) will drop out of the race for Speaker of the Texas House and support Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) in his attempt to unseat Speaker Joe Straus.
Chisum, you may remember, is the father of the Texas version of the "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) and perhaps the most rabid homophobe in the State of Texas (more HERE).
According to the Rules of the Texas House the speaker is elected by the 150 members of the House, from amongst its members, by a simple majority vote. The speaker is responsible for the day to day operations of the House and appoints all committee members and chairs. 'Speaker of the House' is the third most powerful position in Texas Politics, right behind Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
Traditionally the speaker is a member of whatever party has the most members in the House, although that is not required, a speaker from the non-ruling party has never been elected. Starting with the close of the previous legislative session any member of the house may begin to collect "pledges" from other members, promising their votes for speaker.
Chisum declared his intention to run for speaker shortly before the November election. I spoke with one House member (it was a private conversation, so I'm going to leave their name off) who said that Chisum's record on queer issues is part of what prevented them from supporting him: "My Gay constituents would kill me!"
The current Speaker, Joe Straus, was elected by an almost evenly divided house (74 Democrats and 76 Republicans) and with significant Democratic support. He is a moderate who was widely praised for his bipartisan even-handed handling of the affairs of the House. Which is why the far right hates him.
The current House is not nearly so evenly divided (it will probably be 51 Democrats and 99 Republicans - but there is still one race that may face an additional recount and one special election to fill the seat of a member who died shortly after the election). To maintain his speakership Straus will need to collect 76 pledges from members, but those members can be of any party.
One might assume that all 51 Democrats will pledge to Straus, but with a tight two person race it may be tempting for some to pledge to Paxton in exchange for prime committee appointments and preferential treatment for their legislative agenda. That's how the speaker previous to Straus, Tom Craddick, came to power. Several of the vilified "Craddick Ds" who supported him are still serving and may be willing to make a similar deal with the devil this session.
Paxton is affiliated with the Teabaggers, although not the arch-conservative Chisum is, he did vote for the Texas version of DOMA during his first term in the House (so did Speaker Straus). There really haven't been any other "test" bills to make it to the floor since then and since he has, for the most part, served on financial committees so he does not have a committee voting record that can be analyzed to understand where he stands on other queer issues.
That said, Paxton's rhetoric about being a "true" conservative and his strong Teabagger ties would seem to indicate that few, if any, of the legislative priorities of queer Texans would see the light of day in a Paxton House.
General consensus is that Straus has a good chance of hanging on to the speakership, but with 34 freshmen members of the House without a record to base predictions on, it's still anybody's game.