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Joe Straus’ Mask Finally Falling Away
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus’ staid appearance and even temperament present a stark contrast to the bombastic rhetoric and chest beating of many other Texas Republicans – especially his Senate counterpart Dan Patrick.
The approach has served Straus’ politics well. Right wing, burn the place down advocacy groups like Empower Texans criticize Straus for his quiet approach and, in doing so, inoculate him in the minds of many mainstream Texans. Even some Democrats consider Straus more reasonable than other Republican leaders based on his demeanor and little else. It’s a pretty slick act, and Straus has sold it for nearly eight years.
Recently, though, the Straus mask has started to crack and fall apart to reveal a divisive leader substantively no different than the loud reactionaries like Dan Patrick.
Under Straus’ five legislative sessions as Texas Speaker, the Texas House has adopted some of the most damaging, discriminatory and repressive laws in our nation. Most of it Straus could have stopped but didn’t. And, in retrospect, it is clear the worst attacks on mainstream Texans occurred as much because of Joe Straus as despite him.
Under Joe Straus’ leadership the Texas House has:
- Adopted redistricting and voting laws that have been ruled by federal courts to be intentionally discriminatory six times;
- passed over $4 billion in cuts to public schools;
- eliminated women’s health services leading to Texas' maternal mortality rates being higher than in many countries;
- passed an anti-homeowner bill that helps insurance companies by making it even harder for homeowners to recover damages from wind, hail storms and other weather related disasters;
- and adopted a vicious “show your papers” law that requires local police officers to stop and harass Latino and other minority Texans.
Straus’ most recent attack on Texas voters
Just this past Friday, late in the night and under the cloak of reform, Straus pushed through a bill to eliminate straight-party voting in Texas. The bill brings no real reform at all. In fact, it overtly takes away a voting option that has been available to Texans for decades and is chosen by up to two-thirds of the voters in many large Texas counties.
So why take the straight party option away? It’s simple enough. The straight party option makes voting easier and more convenient, especially for the very old, African American and Latino Texans who often prefer Democratic candidates. Straus and other Texas Republicans see the growing voting strength of minority Texans as a political threat.
Members of the House who represent districts with large minority populations repeatedly warned Straus and other Republicans during the course of the debate that an abrupt removal of straight party voting would be repressive and discriminatory. They pointed out that no effort had been made to determine the effect that repeal would have on Texas voters’ ability to participate fully and fairly in elections.
More detail on the regressive and discriminatory effect of eliminating straight party voting is detailed in a recent Lone Star Project report.