Centrist Republicans Mount Coup In Texas Legislature

Not all the political action is taking place in Washington, D.C. 

The ramifications of the Democratic gains across the nation last November has made an impact even in Texas, there the ultra-conservative Speaker of the State’s House of Representatives was removed….not by the voters…….but by moderate Republicans.

There have been many voices raised within the GOP for years that favored a return to moderate policy making, and distancing from the conservative wedge-issue groups that polarize their party.  John Danforth has been one of the leading voices on the national stage to make such statements.  So it is refreshing to see that even in Texas this message for the future of the party has taken hold.

When the Republicans nearly lost their majority in the Texas House in November, a small group of moderates from the party joined with Democrats to oust the archconservative speaker, Thomas Craddick of Midland.

Even more surprising, the Republican rebels engineered the election of Joe Straus, a decidedly centrist politician from San Antonio, to the speaker’s office, making a junior lawmaker with not quite two terms under his belt one of the most powerful people in the state.

The rise of Mr. Straus, a fiscal conservative who has not toed the conservative line on issues like abortion and gay rights, was widely seen as a defeat for the socially conservative wing of the party.

Mr. Straus certainly cuts a different figure than past speakers. For starters, he is the first Jewish speaker since Texas became a state, in a political culture dominated by Christians. (David S. Kaufman, also a Jew, served as speaker in the Congress of the Republic of Texas from 1839 to 1841, before statehood.)

Mr. Straus also lacks the folksy drawl and down-home lingo of his immediate predecessors, Mr. Craddick and Pete Laney, a Democrat, both from West Texas.

A partner in a financial services firm, Mr. Straus comes off as a telegenic urbane man from Alamo Heights, an affluent city within San Antonio, what some folks here like to call “a country-club Republican.” He is a man of few words, friends and colleagues say.

“He’s thoughtful, a listener,” said Representative Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican who has known him since childhood. “Plays his cards close. A lot of people have underestimated him or counted his vote too quickly.”

For his part, Mr. Straus, 49, has said only that he wants to heal the partisan gashes in the House that opened under Mr. Craddick’s iron rule over the last six years.

The new speaker has not made it clear what his legislative priorities are, beyond balancing the budget. As he took over the reins on Jan. 13, he said: “We will create an atmosphere where everyone’s voice can and should be heard. A place where we respect each other’s points of view — Democrat and Republican, urban and rural, liberal and conservative.”

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