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McNeely: Former Texas Speaker Joe Straus PAC adds interest for coming elections

If you’ve been wondering whether former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is done with politics, the answer is no.

Straus announced last week he’s putting $2.5 million of leftover campaign funds into a political action committee he’s calling “Texas Forever Forward.” After 10 years as speaker, Straus didn’t seek re-election last year. But he carried with him some $8 million in leftover funds.

“This committee will enable me to continue advocating a thoughtful, responsible approach to governing, as well as priorities that will create a better future for our state,” he said in a statement.

First priority is education.

“Public education is our greatest economic development tool, and it’s critical to make meaningful, sustainable investments in Texas students,” Straus said. “A diverse, outstanding system of higher education offers every Texan a path to a brighter future and fuels economic growth across the state.”

As speaker in 2017, Straus was instrumental in keeping the House from going along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s “bathroom bill” to regulate which bathrooms transgender people could use. He opposes discrimination against LGBTQ people, or anyone else, as not only wrong but bad for business.

‘In order to remain a pro-business state that attracts economic activity and talented workers, Texas should embrace diversity and promote inclusive, nondiscriminatory policies and laws,” Straus said.

The former speaker, 59, is a moderate-conservative Republican from San Antonio, whose mother was a friend of and campaigner for former President George H.W. Bush from his U.S. Senate races in 1964 and 1970.

Straus is an investor and businessman. He has had administrative jobs in Washington under Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bush.

First elected to the state House in a 2005 special election, he has sought to keep government as small as possible while still carrying out basic duties — schools, highways, public safety, health care.

In late 2008, before he had served two full terms, Straus and 10 other Republicans decided by secret ballot which of them would join with the House Democrats to oust three-term Republican Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland.

Straus was the group’s choice, on the fourth ballot, partly because he hadn’t been around the House long enough to make many enemies.

As speaker, he eventually won the support of most of the Republicans, but not a die-hard minority.

That, coupled later with animosity from Patrick and a majority of the Senate he oversaw, made performing necessary government responsibilities more difficult.

Straus’ recent statement listed other goals:

“Strategic investments in our infrastructure — in a modern transportation system and a reliable water supply — provide the foundation that a fast-growing state requires.

“Effective treatment of behavioral health challenges will vastly improve millions of Texans’ quality of life.

Government should be transparent and accountable in its stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

“Greater participation in our democracy will strengthen our discourse and lead to better policy outcomes.”

“We are launching this effort because I believe Texas needs leaders who are forward-looking and dedicated to bringing creative, problem-solving ideas to the new challenges our state faces as our population rapidly grows,” Straus said. “It’s time to unite Texas in civic participation and ensure our next decades are the very best in our long, proud journey.”

Days before his announcement, the progressive Center for Public Policy Priorities sent out word about its annual “Legacy Luncheon” on Oct. 3 — this year honoring “our friend and an extraordinary public servant” — Straus.

The cover letter from the center — a group that seeks to influence government to help children and poor people — was signed by former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and former state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.

It said the group honors Straus “for his commitment to civil discourse, belief in data and facts and passion for public education ...

“(He) has set a tone of respectful leadership and constructive governance (and) been a pragmatic voice on some of the most critical issues affecting Texans’ lives, including remodeling out public school finance system and expanding mental health and substance use protections.”

”During a time of heightened political polarization, Speaker Straus demonstrated a commitment to civil discourse and constructive governance. Like CPPP, Speaker Straus values credible data and facts as the foundation for policy solutions.”

In November, after a tough election cycle that saw Democrats take over 12 Republican House seats, Straus told The Texas Tribune that Republicans need to “broaden their agendas and offer a more optimistic vision for the future.”

Asked then about running for statewide office in 2022, he was noncommittal. Now he appears to be considering it.

That should be interesting with elections in 2020 and 2022.

— Dave McNeely, an Austin-based columnist covering Texas politics, appears Thursday.

Today's Bible verse

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’ ”

John 8:34

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