Friday, January 4, 2013

Homophobia At Play in Speaker's Race

Speaker Joe Strauss
In four days the 84th Texas Legislature will convene in Austin. The first order of business is for all members to be sworn into office in a lovely ceremony with proud parents and spouses, everyone in their Sunday best, cake and punch to follow.

The second order of business will be the selection of the Speaker of the House and an increasingly nasty and impotent attempt by Rep. David Simpson (R - Longview) to unseat current Speaker Joe Straus (R - San Antonio).

Political Commentators expect Straus to easily retain the Speakership, but Tea-Party-associated groups supporting Simpson maintain the race is still winnable. Recently one Burleson group has charged Straus of pushing a "pro-gay" agenda in an attempt to rouse conservative lawmakers to oppose him.

The Speaker of the House is selected by majority vote of the the 150 House members from among their own membership (so to be Speaker a candidate needs 76 votes (assuming there are no vacancies)). Historically the Speaker has been a member of the majority party, but there is no requirement in the House rules that says that has to be the case.

Straus was first elected as speaker in 2009 by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans unhappy with then Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership style, which was criticized as heavy-handed and divisive. Likewise, Craddick was first elected speaker in 2003 by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans formed after Texas Republicans took a majority of House seats for the first time since reconstruction.

When Straus first took the Speakership the House was almost evenly divided with 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats. In 2011 when Straus sought to retain his post the make-up of the House had shifted to 101 Republicans to 49 Democrats. Seeing the shift, several Republican house members challenged Straus for the Speakership with then representative (soon to be senator) Ken Paxton (R - McKinney) rising to the top as the primary challenger. Paxton's challenge coincided with the Tea Party surge of 2010. He garnered support from several prominent Republican activists and the first day of the 2011 session included sign-wielding tea partiers who lined the capitol halls wielding signs accusing Straus of being a RINO ("Republican In Name Only").

Despite the hype of Paxton's challenge, Straus was easily re-elected with 132 House members supporting him. Respected political commentators from the Fort Worth Star Telegram's Bud Kennedy, to Harvey Kronberg, to the Texas Tribune's Ross Ramsey expect a similiar outcome this session.

Ever quixotic, Tea-Party-affiliated Republican activist continue their efforts to unseat Straus with increasing desperation. Last week the Burleson area We The People of Texas PAC released a full page flyer accusing Straus of pursuing a "liberal" agenda that included being "pro-gay."
Close-up of We The People of Texas PAC flyer
Accusing Straus of pushing a "pro-gay" agenda is laughable. In four sessions in the Texas House Speaker Straus has not cast a single vote in favor of the LGBT community. He voted for the 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting the freedom to marry in Texas and has opposed efforts to require public schools to report instances of anti-LGBT harassment.

WTPoTPAC's issue with Straus isn't that he's "pro-gay," it's that he's not "anti-gay" enough for them.

Straus was elected on a promise to allow the House to function for its members, rather than be driven by the ideology of its Speaker. Increasingly the members of the Texas House of Representatives are beginning to recognize that their constituents (that's you and me) care more about public schools and roads than about the private goings-on of their neighbors. (An October 2012 poll shows that 70% of Texans support legal recognition of same-sex relationships.) As the opinions of constituents evolve it's appropriate that the will of the House evolve and equally appropriate that the Speaker empower members to enact that will.

1 comment:

  1. Gay and lesbian people chose their own sexual status because of their own preference in life. Whether Speaker Joe Straus is a 'pro' or 'anti', I guess what matters most is that he respects the decision made by both parties.

    Harold Poole