Incumbent Joe Straus, the San Antonio Republican, earned the post in 2009 with a small percentage of actual Republican votes, bolstered by wide support from House Democrats, the minority party by a scant two seats.
A centrist speaker can be an expected by-product of a nearly evenly divided body. But the recent election shifted the House makeup to a nearly 2-to-1 GOP majority.
This has led some to call for a more conservative speaker. It also has led Joe Straus to redefine himself.Straus does not seek to redefine his conservatism, which he continues to assert as a follower of icons from Ronald Reagan to John Tower. The change he wants people to notice is his predilection for being a "members' speaker," there to serve broadly astride whatever ideological pie the electorate slices up.
Thus, a Speaker Joe Straus would lead differently with a 99-51 majority than with a 76-74 split.
To some people, this makes solid management sense. To others, it reveals grossly insufficient devotion to core beliefs.
Chisum and Paxton hope for a caucus among the 99 incoming House Republicans, with the goal of uniting behind a single speaker candidate – and preventing Democrats from dominating the vote as they did in 2009.
With sparse Republican support back then, one might expect Straus to oppose that idea. He told me he does not and expects to receive a majority of Republican support, in addition to "the support of the whole House." (Translation: Nearly every Democrat.)
Is that overconfidence? Can Chisum or Paxton sway enough votes from an incumbent speaker? It may boil down to management styles. Should a speaker be an arbiter and steward reflecting the entire complexion of the House, or a quarterback for his political team, marching its agenda down the field?
I choose B, and I'd say the same if Democrats were in charge. I have spoken to Chisum, and his life story and conservative spine are inspiring. But I have been around Paxton since he won his seat, and I have seen him take to Austin with an energy and commitment that seem like a superb fit for a House teeming with fresh conservative passions.
Straus' detractors occasionally have been too harsh. But it may well be that it's time for a speaker who will assert the will of the majority party, rather than the aggregate tastes of every district.
Haven't we heard endlessly that elections have consequences?
Mark Davis in these things always takes an entire column to get to his point... by the time he endorses Paxton you've almost come to accept that Straus will be speaker again... he did that same thing in the Rick vs. Kay race... sort of praising Kay for several paragraphs then endorsing Rick...