Texas Loses a Voice of Reason

(Bloomberg View) -- Big news here in Texas, as business-friendly Republican and state House Speaker Joe Straus announced Wednesday that he won't seek re-election.

This is excellent news for the convention-and-events business in other states, because his exit makes it far more likely that the Texas Legislature will pass more symbolic, divisive legislation when it next meets in 2019. 

The more moderate Straus was elected speaker by a coalition of business-conservative Republicans and the minority party, the Democrats, back in 2009. He's steered the chamber in a conservative direction to be sure -- but he's also blocked a fair number of socially conservative measures, most notably a "bathroom bill" in the most recent legislative session. But as Christopher Hooks writes in the Texas Observer, Straus has generally been the main obstacle to bad legislative measures and therefore a big part of the reason Texas "has fared generally better than similarly red states like Louisiana and Kansas, which are on fire." And that's why Erica Grieder in the Houston Chronicle says his decision "represents a DEFCON 1 situation for the state." Without him, Texas might strip down its education system all the way from pre-K to the university system, or attempt nonsense taxation schemes. It's one thing to lose the occasional NCAA Final Four or some convention business; it's a lot worse to fall out of serious competition for jobs because even the schools in "good" neighborhoods are third-rate, or to lose the ability to attract technology companies because the state pulls the plug on higher education. 

Of course, no individual is indispensable. It's possible that the next speaker will find a way to keep intact the coalition that elected Straus; if Democrats gain a few seats in 2018, it might even be a bit easier (Democrats have no chance for the foreseeable future of actually winning majorities in either of the state's chambers, but even in gerrymandered, Republican Texas, a good year for Democrats could net them a few seats). It's also possible that if radical Republicans take control of the House that Governor Greg Abbott or even the state Senate could pull back from the brink; Abbott is very conservative, but he at times appears to have a pragmatic streak as well, and even the most radical liberal and conservative politicians have been known to become more pragmatic when they win gubernatorial elections. 

At any rate, Straus has been a good politician who takes his job seriously and accepts that making deals and compromising is an important part of politics. By all accounts, he's worked hard to represent his district, and he's tried to do what he sees as right for the state. He'll be missed. 

1. Tasha Philpot at Mischiefs of Faction on Confederate memorials

2. John Sides at the Monkey Cage on changing public opinion on the NFL protests

3. Good Amber Phillips item at the Fix on how Hill Republicans are ignoring Donald Trump on taxes. Yet another example of how he's an incredibly weak president. 

4. Jonathan Chait on the puzzle of Republicans pushing unpopular legislation

5. Erik Wemple takes apart this week's preposterous focus on the ancient news of a uranium non-scandal

6. And my Bloomberg View colleague Noah Smith on how the 2010s may be echoing the 1910s

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

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