|Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives|
January 13, 2009
|Preceded by||Tom Craddick|
|Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 121st district
|Preceded by||Elizabeth Ames Jones|
|Born||Joseph Richard Straus III
September 1, 1959
San Antonio, Texas, United States
|Alma mater||Vanderbilt University|
Joseph Richard Straus, III, known as Joe Straus (born September 1, 1959), is the current Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. He represents District 121, which comprises northeastern Bexar County, including part of San Antonio, Texas, and several surrounding communities. Straus was elected to the Texas House in 2005. Straus was first elected Speaker on January 13, 2009. Straus is Texas' first Jewish Speaker.
Business and community experience
Straus is a San Antonio native and a fifth-generation Texan. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, he has an insurance, investments, and executive benefits practice.
Straus has previously served on the Management Committee of the Bexar County Republican Party, as a precinct chairman, and on numerous campaign committees for federal, state, and local candidates. He served in the administration of U.S. President George H. W. Bush from 1989 through 1991 as Deputy Director of Business Liaison at the U.S. Department of Commerce and earlier under President Ronald Reagan as Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of Customs. In 1986, he was U.S. Representative Lamar Smith's campaign manager in Smith's first race for Congress.
Election to Texas House
Straus joined the House after winning an open special election to replace District 121 state Representative Elizabeth Ames Jones in 2005. He has been easily re-elected ever since.
Challenge against Tom Craddick
After watching the Republican ranks in the Texas House decrease from 88 to 76 over three elections, Straus decided to run against then Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland, the senior Republican in the Texas House. Shortly after New Year's Day, eleven House Republican members, including the late Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, Burt Solomons of North Carrollton, Jim Keffer of Eastland, and Jim Pitts of Waxahachie met in the Austin home of Representative Byron Cook of Corsicana (ten in person and one via webcam). Each wanted an alternative to Craddick. After four rounds of secret balloting, with state and local media hanging around outside in the neighbors' lawns, Straus emerged as their challenger to unseat the Speaker. Over the next several days, the group, dubbed by the media as the "Gang of 11", set out to garner the required minimum of 76 votes (of the 150 total members) to achieve their mission. After several days of phone calls, e-mails, pledge cards and signature gathering, Joe Straus announced on Sunday, January 4, 2009, that he had enough votes to win the job. By the following evening remaining opposition to Straus conceded. After securing his position as House Speaker, Straus appointed 18 Republicans and 16 Democrats to committee chairmanships, which reflected the 76-74 makeup of the House. Republicans continued to chair major committees including Appropriations, Calendars, Public Education and State Affairs.
Straus as Speaker
Straus was first elected unanimously as Speaker on January 13, 2009. He was reelected to a fourth two-year term as Speaker six years later on January 13, 2015 in the first recorded vote for Speaker in forty years.
In 2011, Frank Phillips College in Borger, along with Ranger College in Ranger, Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, and Odessa College in Odessa, were proposed for closure by the State of Texas. The Texas Association of Community Colleges rallied successfully to keep the four instiututions open. In a letter to Speaker Straus and Representative Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, then the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, TAAC leaders referred to state budget restrictions at the time:
Community colleges are fully aware of the state's budget crisis, and we understand that we will have to bear our share of the budget pain. We pledge to work with you to reach a fair and equitable solution ... the decision to close these four colleges is unfair and inequitable in that it appears to be arbitrary and ill-advised. We stand in support of our sister colleges, and we look forward to a productive debate ...
In January 2013, Straus faced intraparty conservative opposition for a third term as Speaker from Representative David Simpson of Longview. Simpson entered the race for Speaker in December 2012, after Straus' previous opponent, conservative Bryan Hughes of Mineola, withdrew from the contest after nearly six months of seeking commitments from colleagues. However, Simpson withdrew before the balloting for Speaker began, and Straus was reelected without opposition on January 8, 2013. Rep. Todd Ames Hunter, a Republican from Corpus Christi, pointed to Straus' even-handed approach to leadership as the reason for his success in keeping the gavel. "The Speaker is exceptional in working with members, said Hunter, an ally of the speaker. "What you've seen within the last week is he has a strong, diverse support base."
Straus was challenged again as Speaker by Representative Scott Turner, an African American from Frisco, at the start of the 2015 legislative session. It was the first recorded Speaker vote since 1976. Groups outside of Texas engaged heavily on Turner’s behalf, but he was never able to break Straus' bipartisan backing. Late in the campaign, the Houston Chronicle reported that Turner tried to attract the support of Democrats in order to save his campaign, but the Democrats and the overwhelming majority of Republicans stuck with Straus. Despite considerable attention from Tea Party movement groups and the media, Turner received only 19 votes to Straus' 128.
As Speaker, Straus has put an emphasis on bipartisan cooperation and on issues such as budget transparency, education, higher education, water and transportation. Under his leadership, the state has passed balanced budgets that stay beneath the state’s constitutional spending limit. The state has invested more money in building up emerging universities, such as the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Houston. With a state budget shortfall looming in 2010 and many beginning to call for higher taxes, Straus publicly called on the House to balance its budget without a tax increase, and the House followed his lead.
Straus has led the effort to make the state budget more transparent. In July 2012, he called on the House Appropriations Committee to begin reducing the amount of money that had collected in General Revenue-Dedicated balances – an accounting technique that legislators and governors increasingly used over 20 years to get the budget certified. In the 2013 legislative session, the Legislature reduced the amount of money sitting in those accounts by $1 billion. Early in the 2015 session, House leaders pledged to reduce those amounts even further.
Perhaps Straus' greatest accomplishment was leading the House, along with Chairman Allan Ritter, to make a historic investment in the state’s water needs in 2013. The Legislature approved, and then-Governor Rick Perry signed, legislation that created a revolving loan fund to pay for water supply and conservation projects around the state. The plan aimed to provide start-up money to communities that often struggled to get it for needed water projects. Straus led the public campaign to approve funding for the water plan, which 73 percent of Texas voters supported in November 2013.
Straus has received numerous awards and accolades. In 2013, Texas Monthly named him one of the "Ten Best Legislators". And in endorsing him for re-election in 2014, the San Antonio Express-News wrote, "Under Straus' leadership, the House has produced conservative budgets and a broad conservative agenda. Straus has done an admirable job managing the House since 2009, and he provides crucial leadership on important San Antonio issues. His constituents benefit significantly by having the speaker represent their district."
Antisemitism controversy as Speaker
In 2010, e-mails circulated among members of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee calling for Straus to be replaced by a "Christian conservative" as Speaker, on the grounds that "we elected a house with Christian, conservative values. We now want a true Christian, conservative running it." Straus's opponents for the Speakership, Ken Paxton (later the Attorney General of Texas) and Warren Chisum, are Christians; both condemned the comments.
John Cook, author of some of the e-mails, said, "I want to make sure that a person I'm supporting is going to have my values. It's not anything about Jews and whether I think their religion is right or Muslims and whether I think their religion is right. ... I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. They're the people that do the best jobs over all." Cook denied allegations that he is anti-Semitic, saying that he had Jewish friends and that Jesus Christ, a Jew, is his favorite person.
Elections of 2012 and 2014
Straus was renominated to the Texas House in the Republican primary held on May 29, 2012. With 10,362 votes (62.9 percent), he defeated opponent Matt Stewart Beebe (born 1973), who polled 6,108 ballots (37.1 percent). In the November 6 general election, Straus faced no Democratic opponent and defeated the Libertarian nominee, Arthur M. Thomas, IV, 50,530 (80.2 percent) to 12,444 (19.8 percent).
Straus was again renominated to the Texas House in the Republican primary held on March 4, 2014. He received 9,224 votes (61.2 percent) to 5,842 (38.8 percent) for Matt Beebe, who again challenged the Speaker.
Two Tea Party movement candidates, Shelia Vernette Bean (born 1968), a former teacher who operates an aviation business, and Jeff M. Judson (born 1962), a business consultant, Tea Party movement figure, and a former member of the Olmos Park City Council, challenged Straus in the primary election on March 1, 2016. Forbes magazine in 2014 called Straus "the Harry Reid of the Texas House", a reference to Democratic U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the former Senate Majority Leader known for his constant defeating of Republican initiatives. Forbes noted that the Texas House has been "controlled by a left-of-center speaker ... who came into power in 2009 by ousting his conservative predecessor with a coalition of Democrats and a handful of moderate and left-of-center Republicans." A Straus ally, Representative Jason Villalba of Dallas County, predicted in 2014 that the 2015 Texas Senate would be "the most conservative in state history" but that the Straus-led House would kill much of the legislation through the House Calendars Committee. There, he said, "conservative bills will be strangled in the cradle."
Straus raised $8 million for his 2016 primary contest with Bean and Judson and as of mid-January had spent nearly $500,000 on television advertising. No other state officials seem likely to spend at that level in the primary campaign. Judson, meanwhile, received a $50,000 contribution from a pastor and fracking entrepreneur, Farris Wilks of Cisco in Eastland County. Earlier, Wilks and his younger brother, Dan Wilks, contributed $15 million to a super political action committee supporting Ted Cruz for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Bean and Judson claimed that Straus failed in 2015 to push through legislation against sanctuary cities and did not adequately support further abortion restrictions and school vouchers. Straus said that his record includes improvements in the water infrastructure, transportation, and public and higher education. Straus said his position as Speaker "made me a very appealing target" by opponents who "don't have this district's interests at heart."
In a pamphlet entitled "The Biblical Basis for Jeff Judson's Candidacy for Texas House District 121", Judson, who has become the more visible of Straus' two challengers, questions "the disconnect between conservative, Christian voters" and Straus, who is Jewish. Judson noted that Straus in 2015 blocked "God-honoring, conservative legislation" passed by the state Senate under Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. "If Christians do not speak out publicly about the moral and ethical issues facing a nation, who will?", Judson asked. Steve F. Hotze (born 1950) of Houston, who heads the group Conservative Republicans of Texas, called for "taking back our party" from Speaker Straus and what Hotze calls the "moderate RINO lieutenants, members of the homosexual political movement, and Log Cabin Republicans, their corporate business, and pro-Muslim sympathizers [who] are organizing and spending millions of dollars to drive Christian conservatives and their values out of the Texas Republican Party." Judson carries the endorsement of mega-church pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Judson himself attends Grace Northridge, an evangelical church; the candidate said that he believes "God created the institution of government to reward good and punish evil."
Judson challenged Straus on the issue of property taxes in Texas. Only five states have higher property taxes than Texas, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation. Those taxes, however, are set by municipal officials, not state officials such as Straus. And the burden is offset because Texas has no state income taxes.
Straus's San Antonio colleague, Republican Lyle Larson, in a campaign letter to the San Antonio Express-News, praised the Speaker as "not flashy, nor is he politically motivated. He's just interested in getting the job done. ... [He] has led the Texas House in passing some of the most conservative and constructive legislation in Texas history ..." Former State Representative John Shields, a former member of the Texas State Board of Education, wrote in another letter to the San Antonio Express-News that primary voters should support Judson. A son-in-law of the industrialist B. J. "Red" McCombs, Shields said that Straus' reputation for bipartisanship is questionable because the "'bi-' must refer to working with your own party as well. Straus frequently frustrates the plans of [Governor] Abbott, [Lieutenant Governor] Patrick and the Texas Senate. He even frustrates his own House Republicans when his liberal committee chairmen kill legislation supported by the majority of House members. ... Too often, he represents special interests, instead of the voters in San Antonio."
Straus carried the formal editorial endorsement of the San Antonio Express-News, which hailed him as a "decent, effective leader [who] has focused on solving major problems that face the state, such as ... transportation and water." The paper wrote that Straus has successfully pushed to passage "conservative issues "on many fronts", including tough abortion restrictions, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and the state's voter identification law. The paper repudiated Judson's claim that Straus is a "career politician," noting that Straus has been a House member for just eleven years and has spent his adult life in business.
Judson criticized Straus for having blocked proposed state legislation to ban sanctuary cities, in which police do not ask the immigration status of persons whom they stop for questioning. In a campaign email, Judson cites the murder in 2015 of 25-year-old Spencer Golvach of Houston, killed by Victor Reyes, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had been deported four times. Dan Golvach, in an advertisement sponsored by the Young Conservatives of Texas, which supports Judson, said that Straus opposition to the ban on sanctuary cities, "put the life of an illegal alien ahead of my murdered son and many other Texans just like him." Susan Pamerleau, the Republican sheriff of Bexar County and a candidate for a second term in the November 8 general election, defended Straus. Judson's "use of a grieving father to accuse Joe Straus of a horrific murder committed by a career criminal is deplorable and irresponsible. No one has done more to secure the border than Joe Straus," Pamerleau said."
Steve Hotze's advocacy group, the Conservative Republicans of Texas, has been labeled by Morris Dees's Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, as an anti-LGBT "hate group". Hotze has made robocalls on Judson's behalf and called upon District 121 voters to "take back the Texas Republican Party for conservative, constitutional, and Christian principles."
In a letter to the San Antonio Express-News, Judith Rodriguez questioned why District 121 voters would consider replacing "the most influential member of the Texas House [Straus] with a freshman [Judson] taking orders and money from groups and individuals who don't live in San Antonio." Susan Oliver Heard, the owner of an art gallery and the daughter of the late San Antonio Democratic power broker Oliver Heard, said that she will cross over to vote in the Republican primary for Straus and Kevin Wolff, a county commissioner and the son of Democratic County Judge Nelson Wolff. "He is a strong Speaker of the House. He is not necessarily liberal, but he's a leader. There are things I disagree with Joe and Kevin about, but they will have conversations with you and they work well with other people."
Despite the intense campaign, Straus proved an easy winner in the primary race, having polled 15,737 votes (60.2 percent). Judson trailed with 7,434 votes (28.5 percent), and Bean drew 2,956 (11.3 percent). Straus now runs unopposed in the November 8 general election, barring a last-minute write-in candidacy by anothere opponent. The San Antonio Express-News called Straus' victory a "big win" and a "big repudiation" to conservatives who had tried unsuccessfully to pin a liberal label on Straus in hopes of defeating him for his legislative seat and thereby removing him as the Speaker. The newspaper said Straus "treats everyone fairly, and that approach should be commended instead of condemned."
Various Straus allies also won re-nomination in the primary, including Jason Villaba in Dallas County and, narrowly, Byron Cook of Corsicana. A newcomer, Jay Dean, the former mayor of Longview, won in District 7 to succeed David Simpson, who formerly opposed Straus' reelection as Speaker. Simpson ran instead for the state Senate. Dean handily defeated conservative stalwart David Lee Watts, who had been the 2014 intra-party rival to George P. Bush in the race for state land commissioner.
In the expectation that he remains Speaker in January 2017, Straus will grapple with a slump of more than one third in the energy industry which has reduced Texas state revenues. The Speaker informed the House Budget Committee that "writing a balanced and disciplined budget that appropriately funds our top priorities is going to be a significant challenge. .... This not a theoretical exercise, but rather a task that affects children, taxpayers, and our state's future."
- "Daily Show correspondent John Oliver says Rep. Joe Straus is the first Jewish speaker in the Texas House". Austin American-Statesman (Austin, Texas: PolitiFact.com). February 12, 2011. Retrieved December 3, 2014.
An Austin American-Statesman news article from January 2009, just before House members elevated Straus to the speaker’s post, said he appeared poised to become "the first Jewish speaker of the Texas House since statehood."
- "Representative Joe Straus". Texas House of Representatives. 13 January 2009. Archived from the original on 22 August 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
- "Robert T. Garrett, Solomons says he won’t seek re-election to Texas House, November 28, 2011". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
- "Letter to the Honorable Joe Straus" (PDF). tacc.org. January 24, 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
- "Tim Eaton, "Simpson announces run for speaker of Texas House", December 10, 2012". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- "Legislature opens; Straus re-elected", Laredo Morning Times, January 9, 2013, p. 10A
- "Straus emerges from Legislature’s first week stronger than ever". Statesman.com. 2013-01-14. Retrieved 2015-06-04.
- Batheja, Aman (November 25, 2014). "Last Contested Vote for Texas House Speaker Was in 1975". Texas Tribune (Austin, Texas). Retrieved December 3, 2014.
- Mann, Dave. "No New Taxes? Not a Chance". Texas Observer. Texas Observer. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- Batheja, Aman. "Straus: Process to End Budget Diversions Starts Now". Texas Tribune. Texas Tribune. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- Hyde, Joe. "Darby: Texas House Bills 6 and 7 Will Make State Budget More Transparent". San Angelo Live!. Hyde Interactive, Inc. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
- Ramsey, Ross; Satija, Neena. "Texas Voters Approve Nine Constitutional Amendments". Texas Tribune. Texas Tribune. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- "Best and Worst Legislators". Burkablog. Texas Monthly. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- "Keep Joe Straus in the House". My San Antonio. San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- Rapoport, Abby (December 3, 2010). "SREC Member: "I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office."". Texas Observer.
- Rapoport, Abby (November 17, 2010). "Has Anti-Semitism Entered the Texas Speaker's Race?". Texas Observer.
- "Republican primary election returns, May 29, 2012". enr.sos.state.tx.us. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
- "General election returns, November 6, 2012". elections.sos.state.tx.us. Archived from the original on January 9, 2014. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- "Republican primary election returns". team1.sos.state.tx.us. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
- Ryan Poppe (December 21, 2015). "Bexar County Tea Party Looking For A Runoff In The Race To Unseat Straus".
- Patrick Gleason (August 14, 2014). "Meet the Harry Reid of Texas". Forbes. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
- David Saleh Rauf, "In Texas, candidates eyes are focusing on TV," San Antonio Express-News, January 17, 2016, pp. 1, A17
- David Saleh Rauf, "Mega donors bolster tea party: Billionaire family fuels anti-Straus bid", San Antonio Express-News, January 22, 2016, pp. 1, A8
- John W. Gonzalez, "Straus cites district's interests in next run: House speaker kicks off campaign", San Antonio Express-News, January 22, 2016, pp. A3, A4
- Brian Chasnoff, "Judson injects religion in race with Straus", San Antonio Express-News, January 23, pp. A1, A2
- Brian Chasnoff, "House hopeful perverts religious freedom", San Antonio Express-News, January 30, 2016, p. 2
- Filipa Ioannou, "Rival targets Straus on taxes in Texas", San Antonio Express-News, January 24, 2016, pp. A3, A4
- Lyle Larson, "Speaker Straus gets the job done for conservatives", San Antonio Express-News, January 29, 2016, p. A13
- John Shields (February 8, 2016). "Judson would be fresh voice in House". San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved February 10, 2016.
- "Re-elect Joe Straus to the Texas House", San Antonio Express-News, February 7, 2016, p. F2
- Gilbert Garcia, "Judson email blames 2015 killing on Straus", San Antonio Express-News, February 19, 2016, p. A2
- Brian Crasnoff, "Judson supporter is leader of 'hate group'", San Antoni Express-News, February 20, 2016, p. A2
- Judith Rodriguez, "Your Turn", San Antonio Express-News, February 26, 2015k, p. A10
- Gilbert Garcia, "Local Democrats consider crossing over to help Straus", San Antonio Express-News, February 28, 2016, p. A2
- "Republican primary returns". Texas Secretary of State. March 2, 2016. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
- "In Straus' big win, a big repudiation", San Antonio Express-News, March 5, 2016, p. A14
- Glenn Evans (March 22, 2016). "As representative, Jay Dean hopes to give voice to East Texas". Longview News-Journal. Retrieved April 3, 2016.
- Peggy Fikae, "Straus: Challenges ahead for budget amid oil slump", San Antonio Express-News, April 20, 2016, p. A1
- Speaker of the House Joe Straus official Texas House of Representatives site
- Profile at Project Vote Smart
|Texas House of Representatives|
Elizabeth Ames Jones
|Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 121st district
|Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives