For the first time since he was elected House Speaker in 2009, Joe Straus walked into the lower chamber on Tuesday without a clear leadership challenger.
And two years after facing a rare contested vote for Speaker, Straus was re-elected unanimously by House members on the opening day of the 85th Legislature for a record-tying fifth term. He joins former House Speakers Pete Laney and Gib Lewis for the longest tenures presiding over the House.
Following the 150-0 vote, Straus took the oath of office and made clear in a speech to a packed House chamber what his legislative philosophy would be for the upcoming session.
“Compromise has become a dirty word in politics,” Straus said. “It’s a good word in this House.”
Straus has long been criticized by some in his party as being too moderate, drawing primary challenges from Tea Party candidates. But he’s easily held onto his San Antonio-based seat.
Straus’ easy re-election as House speaker Tuesday was a departure from 2015, when he faced a Republican challenger from Scott Turner of Frisco who forced the first contested vote for Speaker since 1975. All but 19 House members voted for Straus that year.
Among those members who backed Turner two years ago was Republican State Rep. Mark Keough of The Woodlands, who this year reversed course and seconded Straus’ nomination as Speaker. In his speech to the chamber, Keough recalled that earlier fight in lending his support to Straus.
“I watched as he was aggressively argued against by, in many cases, great men much younger than him…and the scriptures rang out to me again – Do not rebuke an older man,” Keough told the chamber. “Speaker Straus stood there and he took it and he acted with a statesmanship and a concern for the whole House that I was blown away.”
Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass) also was among those who seconded Straus’ nomination Tuesday.
In his address to the House, Straus laid out his legislative priorities, including investing in the state’s mental health system, fixing the “broken” school finance system and reforming the embattled child welfare system.
“In the months ahead, we will come to this chamber to deliberate thousands of your ideas,” Straus said after taking the oath of office. “We will have moments of levity and tension and unity. We will disagree on some legislation and agree on much more.”
And in what could have been veiled jab at a so-called “bathroom bill” proposed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans, Straus encouraged the House to consider policies that “invite economic activity” to the state and “not turn it away.”
Senate Bill 6, one of Patrick’s legislative priorities for this legislation session, would require transgender Texans to use bathrooms that match their “biological sex” in some buildings. Business groups and LGBT advocates have warned that anti-LGBT legislation, including Senate Bill 6, could lead to a costly economic fallout in Texas.
Patrick, for his part, issued a statement noting he has already laid out 25 priorities for the session.
“In all our deliberations, maintaining our conservative principles and protecting Texas values will be our top priority,” Patrick said.
The upper chamber, which also gaveled in on Tuesday, elected Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to serve as president pro tem, a ceremonial position that puts him second in line for the governorship. Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) nominated Seliger for the post, and the nomination was seconded by four other senators: Kirk Watson (D-Austin); Charles Perry (R-Lubbock); Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls); and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).
In similar, brief remarks to both chambers, Gov. Greg Abbott said he was looking forward to another “historic session” in which lawmakers tackle the state’s big issues. He’ll lay out his own legislative priorities in the coming weeks in a State of the State speech to a joint session of both chambers.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.
- Our preview of the 85th legislative session: Lawmakers face a tight fiscal picture, varying priorities from their leaders and all the politics that naturally accompany the last regular session before statewide elections.
- State Rep. Dawnna Dukes confirmed to the Texas Tribune in an email Monday that she is not resigning, months after announcing plans to resign in January