Bexar County GOP censures House Speaker Straus
AUSTIN — House Speaker Joe Straus, R- San Antonio, was censured by his hometown Republican party late Monday, dealing a symbolic blow to the five-term speaker on his way out of office.
Bexar County GOP precinct chairs voted 77 to 21 to rebuke Straus’ leadership, claiming he abused his power to block anti-abortion bills and obstruct Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, among other things, according to members present.
The move ramps up ongoing rifts among moderate and conservative factions of the state’s Republican party just as the March 6 primary races take shape.
In a statement, Straus spokesman Jason Embry said the speaker will keep supporting Republican legislators who “care most about what’s good for Texas.”
“Speaker Straus knew that he would upset some people when he decided to stand on principle and oppose the bathroom bills, but he’s very confident that he did the right thing for Texas and his Bexar County constituents,” Embry said, referring to measures that would have restricted the public restrooms transgender people can use. “Like most Republicans, Joe Straus does not support each of the 266 planks in the Republican Party platform. For example, he believes that Texans should be able to directly elect their U.S. senators. He also supports kindergarten.”
If the state Republican Party adopts the resolution, Straus would be the first sitting House member to get censured.
A censure would let the state GOP withhold financial support from Straus or back someone else in the primary. But Straus isn’t running for re-election next year and already has a formidable $10 million in campaign cash, which he has indicated he will use to support “responsible Republicans” in the primary.
Jeff Judson, a Bexar GOP precinct chair who unsuccessfully challenged Straus in the 2016 primary, said the group pursued the censure because of Straus’ pledge to be active in upcoming elections.
“Even though Straus has announced his retirement from the Texas House, he still has at least $10 million in his campaign account, has announced his intentions to continue promoting his liberal views, and could run for office again,” Judson said in a written statement. “Hopefully those who are tempted to take his money or listen to his voice will understand that he does not represent mainstream Republican views.”
But the move provoked frustration from some, including precinct chair Vivian Brown, who called the censure “disgusting” and afterward resigned as communications director for the Bexar County GOP. Brown warned the party stands to lose major donors for the action.
“You had 77 people out of the county of nearly 2 million that voted to censure the speaker, it’s hardly a repudiation of him,” she said. “They are so proud of themselves and all they did was tear down a fellow Republican.”
Efforts to publicly rebuff Straus ramped up after a contentious session this year, which pitted Straus against tea party-aligned Republicans advocating policies to restrict transgender bathroom use and let parents use public dollars to finance private education, among others.
Straus, a pro-business Republican who has long championed reforming the state’s struggling system for funding public schools, often clashed with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Abbott. The pair heaped blame on Straus when the summer’s special session ended with roughly half of Abbott’s agenda left incomplete, including the bathroom bill and a measure curbing local officials’ authority over property tax increases.
Over the summer more than 50 Republican Party organizations across Texas took votes of “no confidence” or passed other rebuffs of Straus’ leadership, according to news reports.