Monday, March 16, 2009

Vacating Straus?

List Circulating in State House to Vacate Speaker’s Chair, Joe Straus
By Mark Feldt, Texas Insider
Word around the Texas House of Representatives is that a phantom list of nearly 76 signatures is circulating that will take out Speaker Joe Straus when the time is right. A few representatives wishing to remain anonymous have told Texas Insider they have signed the sheet calling for a motion to remove the speaker.

When the House debated the Rules early this session, an interesting debate ensued – one that most people thought was moot once Tom Craddick was no longer speaker. Last session, Speaker Craddick was heavily criticized for his decision not to recognize members who were trying to push the legislative session off its tracks in its final days.

The issue in question was the infamous Rule 5, Section 24, which addresses recognition by the speaker. This session, though a new speaker was named, (one many touted as bringing peace back to the House,) the issue of recognition was still at hand. Ultimately, the majority of House members voted to allow a speaker to be removed mid-session if, after a member called for his removal, the speaker denied it, and then 76 members signed an appeal to remove him.

But who ever thought members would use this new rule? Fast forward a few weeks. We are now two-and-a-half months into the 81st Legislature. Committees and chairmanships have been assigned, and all of a sudden members are second guessing the choice for speaker.

Many Democrats had high hopes for plumb chair posts and committee assignments, but when appointments came out they were surprised to see their support for Straus didn’t pay off they way they anticipated. Consequently, a large number of Democrats and a few Republicans have signed a list that may unseat Speaker Straus when the time is right. It has been rumored that the proper timing would be shortly after the budget passes the House, which it is expected to go for a vote the week after Easter (April 12). The obvious irony in all of this, is that the coalition of 11 Republicans and 60+ Democrats who worked so hard to unseat Craddick finally have power.

Rather than ensure they keep power, this same coalition made it even easier to oust a speaker mid-session by setting the bar for removal of the Speaker at 76 votes in the House Rules. A group of Republicans and a handful of Democrats failed in a vote to set the bar at 90 votes. For the Democrats, the vote is obvious. Every Democrat would rather have a Democrat for speaker than a Republican. By removing the Republican chosen by 60+ Democrats and the 11 Republicans, Democrats hope to replace Speaker Straus with a Democrat immediately or throw the House into chaos without a Speaker. For Republicans signing the list, the motives appear less clear. Some may hope to bring back Tom Craddick as Speaker, or simply improve position in committee assignments or with a subsequent Speaker.

Just as the final days of last session tested the strength of Tom Craddick and his opponents, this session appears headed for a test of the strength of Joe Straus and his opponents.

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