The Texas House of Representatives started the 2013 session today the same way it ended 2011 — with state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as speaker. This represents the third session in a row in which far-right groups like Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute/Texas Values along with Tea Party activists have failed to keep Straus from wielding the speaker’s gavel.

Far-right opponents claim Straus isn’t conservative enough — even after a 2011 session in which the Legislature slashed public education funding, required women seeking an abortion to undergo invasive sonograms and threw low-income women under the bus by cutting funds for family planning and other women’s health programs. State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, announced last year that he would challenge Straus for the speakership. Then Hughes withdrew his challenge, which was taken up by state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. With defeat certain, Simpson withdrew his challenge today as well.

Far-right activists two years ago launched a religious campaign to unseat Straus, who is Jewish. Opponents called for the election of a “Christian, conservative” speaker in his place. Various news outlets called out the bigotry and outright lies in that unsuccessful campaign.… Read More

A large majority of Republicans in the Texas House have rejected demands by far-right groups by indicating that they will support the re-election of Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as House speaker. The vote in the Republican House caucus represents a major defeat for far-right pressure groups like Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) and extremists like David Barton and Peter Morrison, all of whom demanded that GOP House members replace Straus with a speaker who would be more obedient to their divisive legislative agenda.

The full House will vote for speaker on Tuesday, but the decision of the GOP House caucus appeared to ensure Straus’ re-election. Of course, Straus is a conservative, and given that the GOP holds a 101-49 edge in the House, conservative Republicans are expected to hold most committee chairmanships. Some are likely to be very conservative. So the legislative session will still be a tough battle. Help the Texas Freedom Network defend mainstream values like religious freedom and civil liberties at the Legislature by joining a Rapid Response Team today.… Read More

One of the state's right-wing extremists who has been among the most vocal in demanding the replacement of Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as speaker of the Texas House appears to have a stunningly ignorant understanding of civil rights history. In a new e-mail commentary about the speaker's race on Friday, Peter Morrison insists that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a "racist" law: "[T]he Voting Rights Act is a nearly 50 year old law that unconstitutionally discriminates against southern states. It's a racist law that presumes black people can only be represented by black people, and that white voters in southern states are wicked racists who are always out to deny black people their right to vote." Read More

The fight among Texas Republicans over who should be speaker of the state House of Representatives is getting hotter. We suggested on Tuesday that over-the-top efforts by far-right pressure groups and their extremist supporters to replace Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, may well alienate other Republicans. That point was made clearer in a letter from a House Republican made public today by the Austin-based political website Quorum Report (subscription required). The letter from state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, is addressed to right-wing gadfly Donna "Jeffrey Dahmer Believed in Evolution" Garner. Garner, David Barton and groups like Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) have been demanding that Republicans replace Speaker Straus with a hardliner like state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, or Ken Paxton, R-McKinney. Some far-right activists have gone so far as to demand the election of a "Christian conservative" speaker over Straus (who is Jewish). And Garner's attacks have been particularly misleading. In fact, PolitiFact Texas recently rated one particular Garner claim as a "Pants on Fire" lie. Rep. Miller went after Garner's truth-twisting in his letter to her: Read More

Religious-right groups are taking the highly unusual step of calling a public rally next month at the state Capitol in Austin to demand the removal of Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as Speaker of the Texas House. This  newest intimidation tactic comes after a weeks-long religious campaign against Straus in which Straus opponents have noted that other candidates for Speaker are Christians. Straus is Jewish. Nonpartisan organizations such as PolitiFact have also flagged the anti-Straus campaign for distortions and outright lies.

The public rally, set for Jan. 11, is just one more step in the far right’s efforts to elect an obedient House Speaker who is willing to put extremist policies ahead of the Legislature’s most important work in the coming session — closing a massive budget deficit, tackling election redistricting, strengthening public education and helping working families who are struggling in a difficult economy. Two years ago Straus replaced the last Speaker who was beholden to the far right, Tom Craddick. Under Craddick’s six-year, autocratic tenure, legislators regularly faced intimidation and pressure tactics to force them to vote for policies like draining money from neighborhood public schools to subsidize private and religious schools, gutting the Children’s… Read More