In a stunning announcement with huge repercussions for the future of the Texas House and Republican Party politics in Texas, House speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced Wednesday morning that he won’t run for reelection.
In a morning email to supporters, followed by a short press conference in his Capitol office, he said that in his fifth term as speaker, as long as anyone has served, it was time to step aside and yield power to others.
“A confident leader knows when it’s time to give it back,” Straus said.
Of the chance that he would be on the ballot for anything in 2018, he replied, “I highly doubt it.”
Straus’ departure comes after a legislative session and a special legislative session this year in which fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick attacked the speaker as an obstacle to Patrick’s and Gov. Greg Abbott”s conservative agenda. At the conclusion of the special session, Abbott also expressed his frustration with Straus’ leadership, suggesting he needed to get in tune with the administration’s agenda or risk being replaced as speaker by House Republicans when the next session convenes in 2019.
Abbott’s office issued a pro forma statement on Straus’ announcement.
“Joe Straus has served with distinction for both the people in his district and for the Texas House of Representatives,” Abbott said. “I thank Speaker Straus for his service and for his commitment to the State of Texas. Cecilia and I wish Joe and Julie all the best.”
The House Speaker has become a lightning rod for conservative discontent with more moderate elements in the state Republican Party. Straus’ critics have come to view him as the key obstruction to conservative legislation in Texas.
“Victory!!!!!” tweeted Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a frequent Straus antagonist and leading proponent of Constitutional Carry in Texas. Through the last two legislative sessions, Constitutional Carry has been a Republican Party of Texas legislative priority. Many viewed Straus’ “leadership” as the main obstacle preventing its passage.
Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, head of the Freedom Caucus, tweeted, “It’s morning in Texas Again!”
More than 50 Texas Republican Party county executive committees have passed resolutions expressing a lack of confidence in the Speaker.
Straus maintains that he wasn’t being chased out. Saying he was in a stronger position than ever and would be involved in Republican Party primaries on behalf of his allies in the House.
Straus said it would not be his place to express any preference for a successor.
Last month, Rep. Phil King, a 10-term Republican from Weatherford, announced he would challenge Straus for speaker. Minutes after Straus’ announcement, state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, a Straus ally, announced he would run for speaker.
Following Straus’ announcement Wednesday, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and one of Straus’ key lieutenants, told the Quorum Report that he won’t run for re-election either. Cook chairs the powerful House Committee on State Affairs committee.
Straus has been unapologetic about his leadership, which he characterized as “working across party lines” despite clear Republican majorities in both the Texas House and Senate. The House Straus run derailed several Senate efforts to pass conservative Republican agenda items.
“But we have accomplished what I had hoped the House would accomplish when I first entered this office, and I am increasingly eager to contribute to our state in new and different ways,” Straus said in the email.