When all was said and done, the 2014 election — both the Republican primary and the general election — was a godsend for conservatives in the state of Texas. Greg Abbott, the furiously anti-Obama attorney general, cruised to election as governor and Dan Patrick, a right-wing shock jock known for evocative and incendiary tirades, is slated to take the helm of the state senate as lieutenant governor. But, in one of the first official acts of 2015 in the political world, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, an independent-minded and pragmatic moderate, looks slated to win re-election by a landslide.
Straus was first elected in 2009, propped up by a bare boned coalition of the most moderate Republicans as well as the minority Democratic caucus. This original sin, so to speak, of the new speaker enraged Tea Party groups. But Straus did a novel thing as speaker: he left the administration of the chamber to the members and not his personal caprices and ideology. While previous speakers, Democrat and Republican, used the house as their personal soapboxes, Straus yielded to majoritarian desires. Oftentimes, in the deeply conservative chamber, this meant right-wing pipe dreams such as a Voter ID Act and draconian anti-abortion restrictions. But left to his own devices, Straus is much less interested in social issues. He prefers pragmatic and policy-minded solutions to the state's transportation, health and other budgetary woes.
State Representative Scott Turner, R-Frisco, a bombastic Tea Party freshman being almost exclusively underwritten by right-wing moneyed interest such as Michael Quinn Sullivan, is challenging Straus for the gavel. But his campaign, in which he promises a record vote, has been largely limited to solely the most obstreperous or extreme of legislators. Straus, on the other hand, has garnered more than 70 Republican votes and is the odds on favorite of the Democratic caucus of more than 50 representatives.
Thus, while the Senate may be taking a step to the right, the House is staying comfortably in the middle. Let's hope it lasts.
Horwitz is an associate editor.