We’re six days out from opening day of the82nd Texas Legislature, and for those unfamiliar with the local players, let’s take a look at two dudes that have gotten a lot of press lately and bear watching during the session.
By this time next week, the biggest, or at least loudest, pre-Lege controversy will be settled. Incumbent Speaker of the House Republican Joe Straus will either have retained his gavel, or will have been ousted during an opening day vote by far-right Rs who find Straus “insufficiently conservative” to handle his job duties given the midterm Republican groundswell in the November elections. In addition to his supposed lack of conservatism, the attacks on Straus have focused on his record of voting pro-choice and pro-gay, as well as his Judaism. Yeah, outright racism will always be a safe bet for extremist conservatives in Texas, like State Republican Executive Committee member John Cook’s infamous claim that Straus was just not … well … Christian enough to hold the speakership:
“When I got involved in politics, I told people I wanted to put Christian conservatives in leadership positions,” he told me, explaining that he only supports Christian conservative candidates in Republican primary races.
“I want to make sure that a person I’m supporting is going to have my values. It’s not anything about Jews and whether I think their religion is right or Muslims and whether I think their religion is right. … I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. They’re the people that do the best jobs over all.”
Whatever their stated reasons, the thing uniting the anti-Straus contingents is more likely the fact that he enjoys wide support from both Republicans and Democrats in the house and based on pre-vote pledges, isfavored to win re-election to the speakership come opening day. In other words, he is popular, powerful, and effective and that poses a threat to extremists on the far right. But this is the Texas Lege, where anything can happen, so we’ll have to wait and see.
On to Dude #2, Representative Aaron Peña. The story is a few weeks old but if you don’t follow Lone Star politics you may have missed it during the holidays. Back in December, two state representatives announced they were switching from Democrat to Republican. One was Alan Ritter, from Nederland in southeast Texas, and nobody really gave a shit.The other was Aaron Peña, from Hidalgo County on the lower southwestern borderline opposite Reynosa, Mexico. Hidalgo County: 88% Hispanic, 70% Democrat, median income in the low 20Ks, second only to the Bronx for number of citizens receiving foodstamps. Gee golly, doesn’t this sound like the ideal place for aRepublican representative? In fact, until Peña defected, Hidalgo County had no Republican officeholders. None. Zip. Nada.
Aside from locking in aRepublican supermajority in the Texas House, we still don’t know for certain everything that the Republicans who approached Peña at one of those lonely deep South Texas crossroads at midnight sometime last year have in store for him. Peña is known to be seeking support forredistricting his county and for a 2012 Congressional run. What remains to be seen is what he will do during the upcoming Lege session to earn it. Let the shucking and jiving begin!