The Speaker’s race

There are several good stories that look at how Joe Straus III rose so quickly from relative obscurity to one of the most powerful positions in the state.

A story (The How the House speaker’s race was won) by Laylan Copelin of the Austin-American Statesman recounts a quirky process with the key gathering of the ABC (“Anybody But Craddick) Republicans facilitated by Representative Byron Cook’s  14-year-old daughter’s ability to hook up video conferencing (and returning from shopping at the mall to fix the system when it crashed).  Later, when the lawmakers tried to destroy the secret ballots they used to produce their consensus they forgot to open the damper in Cook’s fireplace and set off the smoke alarm. Karen Brooks of the Dallas Morning News described the process as a “wild ride.”

The story of Straus’ emergence from the crowded field (14 members were declared candidates for the speaker) often sounds like an accident. Maybe, it’s because I just finished reading Team of Rivals, but I can’t help but think that somebody was playing the the right angles. The inexperienced Lincoln emerging from a crowded Republican field in 1860 was the result of some careful planning and Straus may have had more than good luck.

There has already been some interesting analysis of the impact of the change in leadership. Christy Hoppe of the Dallas Morning News has a story on Straus’s plans to share power and a  transcript of an interview with Straus. Straus offers a kinder, gentler approach to the speakership and a significant change from the Craddick style. He described the role of the speaker is to “help every member” and promised not to campaign against any incumbent–regardless of party.

Another change noted by one legislator I heard from this week is the Straus will be first truly urban speaker. While we’ve had a Speaker from Ft. Worth (Gib Lewis), Straus will be the first  Speaker to have a urban upbringing and district. Further, Straus’ base of support came from House members from urban districts. Texas has long been dominated by rural interests and urban legislators have struggled to explain their needs to the leadership. The selection of Straus may help the Texas House move beyond the myth of rural Texas and more effectively govern the modern, urban state we actually have.

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