Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has started an organization that seeks to press forward with issues he considers important.
Straus, a moderate Republican, has founded “Texas Forever Forward,” which he said he hopes “will guide candidates during the upcoming election year.”
Two top issues he mentions are “support for public schools and a commitment to economic growth.”
You might get some argument about public schools over charter schools, and complaints about insufficient spending on public schools. But, it’s hard to disagree with the goal of economic growth.
Another part of Straus’s note could get pushback from people like his successor as speaker (for a little while longer), Dennis Bonnen, R-Lake Jackson.
“I also believe it’s important that candidates reflect the diversity of our state and show support for the idea that cities, counties and other local jurisdictions are usually best-suited to make decisions for their communities,” Straus wrote.
“These local decision-makers are also valuable partners with the state when it comes to attracting and recruiting jobs,” he added.
In other words, Straus is pushing back against the punitive micromanagement the state has attempted, at the behest of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen.
Bonnen outlined the heavy-handed treatment he had hoped to deliver to local governments in his June 12 closed-door meeting with ultra-right Empower Texans leader Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Sullivan leaked some of what Bonnen had said, including the names of some Republicans he’d said he hoped Sullivan would oppose. Sullivan revealed later, on July 25, that he had secretly recorded the conversation.
Bonnen told Sullivan that “[a]ny mayor, county judge that was dumb a — enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity: My goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the Legislature for cities and counties.”
Straus’s emailed note said his efforts in elections will be for office-seekers who agree with the views outlined by his group.
“Texas Forever Forward (www.texasforeverforward.com) will continue working to advance these principles and to support candidates who share our focus on the issues that are most important to our future,” he wrote.
Straus was initially elected House Speaker in 2009 as the chosen candidate of a group of 11 Republican House members disgruntled with the heavy-handed operating style of his predecessor for three terms, Republican Tom Craddick of Midland.
The ABC Republicans — “Anybody But Craddick” — teamed with 65 frustrated Democrats to elect Straus speaker. He was reelected four more times, to tie the record of 10 years as speaker.
The “Forever Forward” website’s brief description of Straus says he “has always focused on priorities and issues that support private-sector growth: strong public schools, outstanding colleges and universities, a reliable water supply, a modern transportation system, and policies that embrace the diversity and respect the dignity of all who want to work and invest in Texas.
“Speaker Straus has also been a champion for improving the state’s behavioral health care system and investing more dollars in child protection,” the website says.
The description also notes that, “In 2017, he led the successful fight against discriminatory legislation that threatened severe economic harm.”
That reference to the potty police bill pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to designate which restrooms transsexuals could use, was blocked in the House in the regular legislative session, and in a special session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The description notes that The Dallas Morning News in 2017 named Straus “Texan of the Year.”
He “protected Texas from some of its worst political impulses, prevented serious damage to the economy and brought together enough bipartisans to check the far-right dominance in the Republican Party,” the newspaper wrote.
In a Forever Forward update emailed Friday, Straus noted that “the stakes are high for Texas Republicans in the 2020 elections and I believe we can make a difference by promoting effective leaders who offer voters a positive, inclusive vision of the future.”
He has been “traveling the state to support and help raise resources for candidates and organizations whose priorities and principles align with Texas Forever Forward,” Straus wrote.
Those include the Associated Republicans of Texas, Rep. John Raney of Bryan/College Station, Rep. Stan Lambert of Abilene, Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Brett Busby.
“I also campaigned with Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio,” he wrote.
Whether Straus, 60, is just running an effort to shape Texas policies, or whether this is a potential base for a future run for office — governor? Lieutenant governor? U.S. Senate? — isn’t clear.
But after 14 years in the Texas House, and the past 10 as House speaker, Straus definitely hopes to continue having an impact on the state’s public policy.