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Rep. Simpson running for Texas House speaker; Hughes drops bid

By Will Weissert, Associated Press
Dec. 10, 2012 at 2:51 a.m.

AUSTIN - Tea party-backed state Rep. David Simpson shook up the race for Texas House speaker on Monday by announcing his candidacy, and he immediately won the endorsement Rep. Bryan Hughes - a fellow conservative who had spent months campaigning for the post.

Entering just his second term when the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 8, Simpson had maintained previously that he wasn't interested in challenging fellow Republican Joe Straus of San Antonio for the speakership. But he said he was persuaded to change his mind.

"For some time I have been prompted and encouraged to run for speaker," Simpson said. "After much prayer, consideration, and counsel, I made the decision to enter the race and filed the requisite paperwork."

On the opening day of session, House members choose the speaker, who picks committee leaders and controls the flow of legislation. Straus unseated Republican Speaker Tom Craddick in 2009 and bested two challengers from within his own party to retain his post last year - winning support from GOP representatives but also from Democrats.

For re-election, Straus needs 76 votes, a task that wouldn't appear daunting since Republicans will hold a 95-55 advantage in the House.

Still, Hughes, a Republican entering his sixth term from Mineola, declared back in May that he would challenge Straus from the right - and he had won endorsements from dozens of tea party groups and conservative grassroots organizations. Shortly after Simpson's announcement Monday, however, Hughes urged his supporters to back Simpson.

"I wholeheartedly endorse my friend David Simpson," Hughes said in a statement. "David is uniquely qualified to lead the House at this pivotal time in our history."

Lawmakers from both parties had said recently they expected at least one more Republican, if not several more, to vie for the speakership against both Hughes and Straus. But Simpson entering and Hughes supporting him sets up a potential showdown pitting Straus against a tea party up-and-comer.

"It's wonderful. The name of the project here is the same in both men's minds, and that is to have a conservative speaker," said Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, which had endorsed Hughes.

Rather than keeping largely quiet as is the norm for freshman lawmakers, Simpson caused a stir last year by sponsoring ultimately unsuccessful legislation to criminalize "excessive touching" by screening officials during airport security pat-downs. The federal government threatened to ground all flights into and out of Texas if the bill became law, fearing it could be a security risk - and Straus dismissed Simpson's proposal, saying it would make Texas a laughing stock.

Though he presided over arguably the most-conservative Legislature in Texas history last session, Straus angered the tea party by failing to support the airport security bill or legislation to ban so-called "sanctuary cities" for illegal immigrants that would give police more power to ask anyone they stop about their citizenship status.

Grass-roots organizations further faulted Straus for using "financial gimmicks" to balance the state budget and for his handling of redistricting maps. Some anti-abortion groups have also questioned the speaker's loyalty, and his family is in the horse racing business, which troubles some.

"I think it comes down to liberty," Adams said. "That's why we will support Rep. Hughes or Rep. Simpson."

Simpson voted against Straus for speaker in 2011. Asked if Straus sought to marginalize him after that, Simpson has noted that he was assigned to the House's Urban Affairs Committee - even though his district is decidedly rural - and pointed to the speaker's criticism of the pat-down bill.

Straus spokeswoman Erin Daly said Monday that the speaker's office had no immediate comment. Straus has spent the last several weeks crisscrossing the state and meeting with representatives, and says his bid for speaker enjoys broad bipartisan support.

But in his statement, Simpson said "since I filed, a number of my colleagues have already offered their support and we look forward to sharing our vision of fair and open government with every member of the Legislature."

Simpson noted that he respects Straus but that "the culture of 'go along to get along' politics, where members face intimidation and retribution should they disagree with a leadership decision, stifles representative government."

<p style="text-align: center;">*

Here's the text of Simpson's letter:

<strong>An Open Letter and Invitation</strong>

<p style="text-align: right;">December 10, 2012

<em>My fellow Representatives and Representatives-Elect,</em>

<em>For some time, I have been prompted and encouraged to run for Speaker. After much prayer, consideration, and counsel, I made the decision to enter the race and filed the requisite paperwork.</em>

<em>This is an invitation to transform the way the House is led and the spirit of its operations. I respect Speaker Straus as a fellow legislator who loves Texas and her people; however, we differ on the way the House should be led. And I am not alone in that opinion.</em>

<em>The culture of 'go along to get along' politics, where members face intimidation and retribution should they disagree with a leadership decision, stifles representative government.</em>

<em>This race centers on the principles by which we govern and serve the House. If given the responsibilities of this office, I will preside according to the first principles of integrity and I will honor the process.</em>

<em>The rules must be applied without disparity and not give way to the convenience of an individual political agenda. For some, the outcome justifies any means by which it is accomplished - even trampling the rights of others.</em>

<em>But, I believe that it is not enough to just do the right thing. We must do the right thing in the right way.We should enforce the rules for everyone without regard to party, personality, or seniority. Texas is blessed with a legislative process designed to help ensure limited government and minority rights. We should honor that tradition.</em>

<em>Furthermore, public trust in our government depends upon a transparent, accountable system. We should not require of others what we are unwilling to do ourselves. We should lead by example in things great and small and put substance over mere symbolism. Government of, by, and for the people should not seek to concentrate power but provide checks and balances that protect all.</em>

<em>This is a better way. I invite you to join me in transforming the operations of the House, honoring our oaths to our Constitutions and representing our constituents.</em>

<em>As Speaker this means I will treat all members with respect, and, through honoring the process of the House, give all opportunity to promote the ideas and legislation important to their districts and the state. I will endeavor to maintain good communication with members and their staff and assist in the legislative process. I will appoint members to committees and leadership positions based on knowledge, experience, skill, and desire - not partisanship or payback. I also will expect commitment to the golden rule, liberty, and the process.</em>

<em>My own policy views are no secret to you; I believe in and will always work for limited government and the protection of civil liberties. But, this does not necessitate a strong-arm approach to leadership. In fact, it requires the opposite.</em>

<em>We seek the "free government" espoused in the Preamble of our Texas Constitution. So as I earnestly advocate for fiscal responsibility, limited government, and liberty, understand that I do so by employing reason, leading by example, and maintaining a fair administration of the rules.</em>

<em>Iron sharpens iron; we forge the best policy through vigorous debate. Therefore, I will listen to and learn from those with whom I disagree or who stand in opposition to my leadership. At the same time, I will insist upon the House's constitutional role, rights, and privileges.</em>

<em>We must seek solutions that make everyone better off and make tough choices to protect Texans and seek the higher ground of liberty and opportunity, which unites us.</em>

<em>I invite you to join me in transforming the way the House operates. Now is the time to put the principles of liberty and open government above the politics of intimidation. This is the decision that we as Representatives can make.</em>

<em>With these thoughts in mind, I respectfully request your consideration and prayers, and I ask for your support in the race for Speaker.</em>

For Texas and Liberty,

David Simpson



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