Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) filed paperwork establishing his candidacy for Speaker of the House “in order to have an open discussion concerning the future of our Texas House.” The 10-term lawmaker has served as chair or co-chair of a committee under each of the last three Speakers, including being Speaker Joe Straus’s (R-San Antonio) chair of Homeland Security and Public Safety this session.
Straus has previously announced he would seek a sixth term as the House’s presiding officer and filed paperwork establishing his candidacy.
Straus was unopposed for his fifth term as Speaker this year. In 2015, he defeated former Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco) in a 127-19 record vote. Prior to the vote, 75 Republicans (including King) and 46 Democrats had publicly pledged their support to Straus. Of the 19 who voted for Turner, 14 are still in the House. Two of those 14 – Reps. Pat Fallon (R-Frisco) and Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands) – are not seeking re-election. Former Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman), who is not currently in the House, is running to reclaim the HD4 seat.
Straus has faced opposition leading up to prior sessions but has otherwise not faced a record vote of his colleagues, including when he ousted former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) in 2009. Eleven Republicans joined the chamber’s Democrats in providing Straus with enough votes to secure the job, and Craddick conceded prior to the convening of the regular session. Of those 11 Republicans, only Straus and Reps. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) and Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) remain in the House.
Just before the 2011 session, former Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) and current Attorney General Ken Paxton (R-Plano) challenged Straus, but the incumbent reportedly received 70 votes in a nonbinding poll of the Republican caucus. Chisum withdrew and endorsed Paxton, and Paxton declined to have his name placed in nomination. Straus was elected by acclamation. In late 2012, former Reps. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and David Simpson (R-Longview) campaigned for Speaker, but both withdrew before nominations were taken. Straus was once again elected by acclamation.
Aside from Craddick, none of Straus’s former challengers remain in the House.
Conservative groups have long opposed Straus and sought to replace him as Speaker. Since the session concluded, a number of Republican Party county executive committees have voted to censure or express no confidence in Straus’s leadership, citing the House’s inaction in the regular and special sessions on several pieces of legislation backed by conservative groups.
After the special session concluded, members of the House Freedom Caucus requested and received a meeting of the Republican Caucus to discuss how the Speaker is elected. They argue that a Republican Speaker candidate ought to have the backing of a majority of the caucus. By rule and tradition, all House members vote for the Speaker candidate of their choice. The caucus has since formed a working group on the Speaker election process, and its report is expected to be presented in about a month.
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