Friday, July 31, 2015

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus settles into national role for campaign group

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is settling into a new role as the second in command of a national group devoted to electing more Republicans to state legislatures, a position that promises to boost his political profile outside the state.

On Thursday, the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee unveiled its plans for the 2015-2016 election cycle backed by a record $40 million budget. The group is focusing on six states where Democrats and Republicans each control one statehouse chamber: Colorado, Kentucky, Washington, Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico.

The campaign committee, an arm of the Republican State Leadership Committee, also has its sights set on chipping away at Democratic supermajorities in states that recently elected GOP governors, such as Illinois and Massachusetts. In a statement Thursday, Straus nodded to that goal, saying, "Republican legislators have earned the support of voters in states across the country, including some states that were once reliably blue."

The group's efforts probably won't involve safely Republican Texas, but one of the state's three highest-ranking elected officials will nonetheless be at the center of them. That will especially be true next year, when Straus is set to take over as chairman of the committee from Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.

Politically, the position signals that Straus is not going anywhere, despite nagging criticism from some activists that he is insufficiently conservative. That criticism sometimes overshadows Straus' stature among members of his party outside Texas, according to Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

"It's a recognition of the high esteem in which Speaker Straus is held by Republicans nationwide," Jones said of the campaign committee post. "I think there's sometimes a tendency in view Speaker Straus as way on the left, but the reality is that his position, his ideological and policy position, is more in line with Republicans at the national level than many movement conservatives who are very successful in Texas."

Straus has already declared his intent run for speaker again during the 2017 session, which would be his fifth term wielding the gavel. He has a primary challenger next year for House District 121 in Bexar County: Jeff Judson, former president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank.

Straus allies see the committee post as a sign of his growing influence in Austin, where the House's GOP majority has grown by as many as 25 members at a time under his leadership.

"The strength of his leadership here in the state is only growing and, because that, he’s going to be able to call the shots going forward," said state Rep. Jason Villalba of Dallas, who has previously worked with the Republican State Leadership Committee to help elect more minorities to state-level offices.

Disclosure: Rice University and the Texas Public Policy Foundation are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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