House Speaker Joe Straus fought back at those questioning his conservative bona fides at a Republican club event in Arlington Thursday morning.
Two other Republican state representatives, Ken Paxton of McKinney and Warren Chisum of Pampa, are challenging Straus' bid for a second term as Speaker of the House. Straus framed the race as a fight over power rather than actual ideological disagreements within the House GOP.
"We have an agenda," Straus said. "Grassroots will be happy. We are not in session. The election is over. We will govern in a way that, when I come back Arlington, you will stand up and say, 'Thank you, Mr. Speaker.'"
The San Antonio Republican took questions from attendees for about 30 minutes. Most were related to the Speaker's Race. Straus repeatedly described attacks on him as misinformation coming "from the Internet."
"I think all this disunity that you're referring to that is out there on the Internet is created really by a power struggle, not a disagreement about Republican goals," Straus told one attendee.
George Curry, a Republican from Keller, had a lengthy exchange with Straus over his record during the last session.
Curry said Straus was elected speaker by 65 Democrats and 11 Republicans.
"That is incorrect," Straus said. "It was 150 to zero. And the order of the math, if you're going to talk about the first 80 or so who did support me, it was 11 Republicans who took a stand after an election where we almost lost our majority...The Democrats supported a new speaker. They didn't care who it was. Then everyone else came along...The order that we got the 150 was a little more sophisticated than some of the emails that go around."
Straus also described as false allegations that he gave any money to Democrats during the election cycle, but noted that his predecessor, Tom Craddick, gave large amounts to Democrats that supported him as spekaer. Straus said he attended fundraisers of some Democratic incumbents this year as a courtesy.
Curry noted that there were nearly as many committees headed by Democrats last session as Republicans. (The speaker selects the membership of every House committee.) Straus stressed that the committees from last session were reflective of the close partisan divide of the chamber.
Curry asked if any Democrats would be given committee chair positions this time.
"I don't know yet what I'm going to do on committees and it would be illegal for me to make commitments to you or to members about who's going to be where on committees," Straus said. He then suggested that at least some Democrats would get committee chair positions next session under his leadership.
"I will tell you that the precedence of the House, whether it be under Republican leadership or Democratic leadership, is to have committee chairman of both parties," Straus said. "I do not want the Texas House of Representatives to be a mirror image of the United States Congress."
Straus took issue with those criticizing his handling of the last session while ignoring the fact that the House was made up of 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats. He noted that the House ended up, in practical terms, evenly divided given that one Republican was gone for most of the session due to health problems and the Speaker doesn't traditionally vote.
"I'm very proud of our record under those circumstances," Straus said. "If we can stop looking back though, as successful as that was under those circumstances, we can look forward to a House with 101 Republicans."
Straus said he expects conservative bills, including ones requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls and requiring women seeking an abortion to be shown a sonogram of the fetus beforehand, to move through the House more quickly this session.
"It will be a different House," Straus said.*
Several Republican state representatives were at the meeting including Bill Zedler of Arlington, who won back his state house seat from a Democrat in November. Zedler has backed Paxton for Speaker. He was the only representative present at the meeting that wasn't backing Straus.
Afterward, Zedler said he remained a firm Paxton supporter.
(*An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly described Straus as referring directly to Zedler during his speech.)