Why is the Texas House speaker race important?
Also: Senate special election results, rural symposium
By Shayne Woodard and J Pete Laney, TAD Governmental Affairs
A lot is at stake in the Nov. 6 general election. The results will solidify the 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives, who ultimately will elect a very powerful official – the next speaker of the Texas House. It could be one of the state’s most critical elections, yet it won’t be directly on voters’ ballots.
Current Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio is retiring from the House after serving as the chamber’s presiding officer since January 2009 – that’s five legislative sessions.
The speaker is a member of the Texas House of Representatives, elected by voters in his district just like every member of the Texas House. But in keeping with Article 3, Sec.9 of the Texas Constitution, on the opening day of each legislative session (which will be Jan. 8 for the next session), the 150-member body will duly elect its new leader.
Why is the speaker election important?
The speaker is the presiding officer of the Texas House of Representatives and one of the most powerful players in Texas Government. As presiding officer, the speaker maintains order during floor debate, recognizing legislators who wish to speak and ruling on procedural matters. The state Constitution also requires the speaker to sign all bills and joint resolutions passed by the Legislature. As a member of the House of Representatives, the speaker may vote on all questions before the House.
Other duties and responsibilities of the speaker are determined by the members of the House in the House Rules of Procedure, which members adopt by a majority vote at the beginning of each regular legislative session. Members give the speaker authority to appoint the membership of each standing committee (subject to rules on seniority) and to designate each committee’s chair and vice chair. Under the rules, the speaker is responsible for referring all proposed legislation to committee, subject to the committee jurisdictions set forth in the rules. The rules also allow the speaker to appoint conference committees, create select committees and direct committees to conduct interim studies when the Legislature is not in session.
As of press time, seven House members (who have safe re-elections in November) are running for speaker. They have filed public notification paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission which allows them to raise money and travel to make their pitch.
Current candidates – six Republicans and one Democrat – hail from across Texas. You can click on each legislator’s name below to learn more about each.
- Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches
- Drew Darby of San Angelo
- Phil King of Weatherford
- Tan Parker of Flower Mound
- Walter “Four” Price of Amarillo
- John Zerwas of Fulshear
The lone Democrat is Eric Johnson of Dallas.
House races across the state will determine the political makeup of the Texas House, which in turn could determine who wins the speaker race.
Texas Democrats are feeling optimistic, especially in the larger urban counties where they hope U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke will rally the troops and create down-ballot bedlam for some incumbent Republican congressional and legislative races. Many Austin insiders think Dallas, Harris and Travis counties will experience heavy election turnout that will benefit Democratic challengers and make a significant impact on the current makeup of 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats in the Texas House.
A majority of the Texas House Republican Caucus has signed pledges committing to elect the new speaker within the caucus in an attempt to shut out Democrats. Hard-core Republicans fear the lead-up to the 2020 census followed by the re-drawing of political boundaries in 2021 is worth playing political hardball.
However, nothing but the potential for political backlash in future elections requires a duly-elected House member to vote with his or her caucus in the final election on the floor of the Texas House on Jan. 8. Political insiders love to sit in Austin and quietly consider the various pacts and relationships that would enable a candidate to cobble enough votes.
What if Democrats pick up seats in the House? Will the Democrats be able to stay together as a voting block to enrich their ability to influence the outcome of the speaker race? Which candidate will attract the pro-public school vs. the pro-school voucher crowd? Will the long-standing rural vs. urban factions be a factor?
Stay tuned, it will be an election worth watching from now through Jan. 8.
Senate District 19 election finalized
Republican Pete Flores of Pleasanton was elected in a special election on Sept. 18 to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). Flores’ win over Pete Gallego, a Democrat from Alpine, was considered an upset and also historic – he will be the first Hispanic Republican to serve in the Texas Senate.
Flores is a former Texas game warden. He ran unsuccessfully ran against Uresti in 2016. Gallego is a former congressman who previously served in the Texas House for more than 20 years.
Flores will serve through Dec. 31, 2020. Uresti resigned June 26 after he was found guilty in federal court of 11 counts of fraud and was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. The runoff was held after none of the eight candidates in July 31 special election secured a majority of votes cast in the district.
TAD to sponsor rural symposium in November
The Texas Tribune will present a symposium on rural policy and affairs in Texas at Texas A&M University on Nov. 12-13. The Texas Association of Dairymen will attend and is a sponsor of the event.
“The Future of Rural Texas” will consider the future of rural education, health care, natural resource preservation and infrastructure investment, and explore the current political climate in rural Texas and the state’s economic future.
The symposium is free and open to the public. Registration opens Oct. 9. Also, all panels will be livestreamed online. Click here for more information on the full program and speakers, to register or to find out how to watch online.