Texas Voters Repudiate Team Straus

In race after race, Texas primary voters embraced conservative candidates over the team led by moderate House Speaker Joe Straus. Even as he won re-election at home, Joe Straus lost three of his closest committee chairs and two others are in precarious run-offs. Overall, it was a very good night for conservatives!

Across Texas, grassroots activists were more than a match for the monied Austin special interests, and the tea party proved themselves more than capable of brewing a much-needed cup of electoral victory for a bumper-crop of strongly conservative candidates.

Straus’ Public Education Committee chairman, State Rep. Rob Eissler, was defeated by tea party favorite Steve Toth in HD15. You might recall that back in 2008 Mr. Eissler was one of the 11 moderates who joined with 65 Democrats in selecting Straus as the speaker – overthrowing the conservatives.

In Tarrant County, State Rep. Vicki Truitt lost big to conservative leader Giovanni Capriglione. As a Straus committee chair, she was an ardent proponent of raising gasoline taxes and burdensome regulations, while generally opposing conservative fiscal reforms. Truitt had also come under scrutiny in the press for getting no-bid contracts from a local taxing entity.

One of the biggest personal losses to Straus was committee chairman Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton to State Rep. James White. (Mr. White had defeated a Straus Democratic chairman in November 2010.) This 2012 election was a wild race by design, starting with Rep. White’s district being radically altered in redistricting. Then, Hamilton specifically moved into the new district to challenge the strongly conservative White.

Why was the race personal for Straus? You see, the Speaker has counted on Hamilton to continue carrying the water on expanding gambling – benefitting the Straus family in the process.

Two more Straus committee chairs – Sid Miller and Chuck Hopson – are in run-offs for their political lives. Mr. Miller has been a strong conservative, who nonetheless supported Mr. Straus for speaker in 2010. On the other hand, Mr. Hopson was elected as a Democrat for a decade before recently switching parties but keeping his bad record.

Several of the most strident freshmen supporters of Speaker Straus fell. Conservative stalwart Matt Krause avoided a run-off by defeating lackluster State Rep. Barbara Nash of Arlington. Also retired was single-term State Rep. Marva Beck, who broke faith with her tea party grassroots and ended up losing to a school board member who worked for a Democratic congressman.

Challenges to conservatives proved difficult for Team Straus. In re-match elections freshmen State Reps. David Simpson and Charles Perry easily fended off challenges by Straus allies (and former legislators) Tommy Merritt and Delwin Jones, respectively. Not even close.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Bryan Hughes enjoyed a 77% win on his way to challenge Straus for the speakership.

A dark spot on the night was the loss of State Rep. Wayne Christian. But even there, the Straus team had to radically re-draw Christian’s district and spend heavily from the Austin lobby.

The situation was worse for the Straus team in the “open seats” – these were predominately districts vacated by Straus loyalists unwilling to take on rough races in 2012, or races featuring Straus recruits. Among the big wins were Scott Turner, Jonathan Stickland, Craig Goldman, Scott Sanford, and Ron Simmons – among others!

Grassroots groups and tea party activists were very engaged in all of these races, including Straus’ HD121. For the first time in 25 years, a House Speaker had a challenge in his own primary. Yes, he won — but Speaker Straus was so busy at home, he neglected to protect his allies. That’s many things, but it’s clearly not leadership.

The repudiation of Joe Straus is seen perhaps most clearly in 94 percent of GOP voters calling for strict spending limits – something Mr. Straus’ leadership has blocked two sessions in a row. And Mr. Straus recently doubled down on his position by dismissing Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas Budget Compact, which has strict spending limits as a key component.

There will be much more to dissect and discuss – including the various run-offs – in the coming days. Tuesday was clearly a day in which the lackluster leadership of Joe Straus was repudiated, and voters strongly re-asserted their desire for authentic, fiscal conservatism.