|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, U.S.
|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.
His mother, Jocelyn Levi Straus, was a Republican Party fund-raiser and was a close friend of U.S. President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, during Bush’s two Senate races and his bids for the White House.
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. He was former spokesman for the Retama Development Corporation, a development company that built the Retama Racetrack in San Antonio, which was for betting on horse racing. The Straus family is heavily invested in gambling and its legalization.
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. The votes came from the entire Democratic caucus, voting along with the 11 Straus Republicans, to support the new Speaker. 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 ran without opposition 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 institutions 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."
In January 2015, Straus was challenged again as Speaker by Representative Scott Turner, an African American from Frisco. It was the first recorded Texas Speaker vote since 1976. Groups outside of Texas engaged heavily on Turner’s behalf, but he was not 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. 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."
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."
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 then ran unopposed in the November 8 general election. 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."
2017 political developments
Straus announced his opposition to President Donald Trump's pending travel ban against seven predominantly Muslim nations, including Somalia: "I am concerned about sending the incorrect message that we are at war with any religion." Joining Straus in this position was another Texas Republican, U.S. Representative Will Hurd of Texas' 23rd congressional district.
Straus has declined to support the bathroom bill, SB 6, introduced by state Senator Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and strongly endorsed by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Straus said the measure is not a priority for him. Jared Woodfill, the former Harris County Republican chairman and editor-in-chief of the newsletter of the group Conservative Republicans of Texas, has challenged the Speaker on the issue. On March 9, 2017, Woodfill wrote:
Joe Straus ... like we saw in the Senate State Affairs Committee [under Chairman Byron Cook of Corsicana] this week, typically chooses to slow play a bill to ensure its death through a committee of his choice or keep it from seeing a vote by the entire House through his hand-picked appointments to the Calendars Committee. Regardless of the path, in either situation any bill that Straus opposes is never voted upon by the House. This is Joe Straus’ method of operation whenever he wants to kill conservative legislation and keep his and other members’ fingerprints off the corpse of a bill. ... I am not sure if Straus has read the Republican Party of Texas platform. If he had, he would find on page 11 the following: “Gender Identity-We urge the enactment of legislation addressing the individuals’ use of bathrooms, showers. and locker rooms that correspond with their biologically-determined sex.”
In May 2017, Woodfill and Dr. Steven F. Hotze, president of Conservative Republicans of Texas, placed a statewide call for conservative Christian candidates to step forward to run for state representative in the primary elections scheduled for March 6, 2018, against intra-party opponents of the Kolkhorst bill, on which the House Speaker refused to permit a roll call. The legislation would require persons in public places to use the rest room corresponding with their genitalia at birth; it is opposed by liberals, transgender persons, and many businesses and sports teams. Hotze called Republican opponents of the bill "spineless, yellow-belly Texas Republican state representatives who have not had the courage to ... protect the privacy and safety of their mothers, wives, daughters and granddaughters. ... If a man does not have the courage to protect women and girls and keep them from harm’s way, then he is as worthless as chaff that the wind drives away ..." Hotze questioned the extent of Republican opposition to the bill, which he claims has the support of 84 percent of Texas Republicans in a recent survey.
The May 8 deadline for House bills to be approved by House committees passed without Straus permitting consideration of the bathroom bill, effectively killing the legislation.
Governor Abbott therefore called a special legislative session to begin on July 18, 2017, in which lawmakers will consider once again nineteen conservative measures, including the bathroom bill and property tax relief, left languishing from the regular session that ended in May. Dr. Steven Hotze urged voters to contact their Republican legislators to urge that Straus be removed as Speaker during the special session. Hotze also singled out Representative Cook as instrumental in the regular session in defeating some of the bills still pending.
After the legislative session ended, the conservatives continued to push the House to approve the Senate version of the bill. In June, a woman in The Woodlands was sexually violated when a biological male entered a women’s dressing room and began videotaping the woman while she tried on bathing suits. Security cameras showed the store employees doing nothing to stop the predator. According to KTRK in Houston, the woman was emotionally damaged. Supporters of the bathroom bill cite this event to justify the legislation.
Straus claims that his inclination on the still disputed legislative matters is to make certain that the people are empowered at the local level, rather than the imposition of top-down guidelines from the state. He attributes this point of view from the late Senator Tower, who began his career as a staunch conservative but began drifting to the moderate position by the early 1970s. Tower often said that "the best government is that which is closest to the people." Straus could halt the special session by using his power to adjourn the House and leave Abbott and Patrick politically isolated.
On July 10, 2017, the Bexar County Republican Executive Committee cast a vote of "No Confidence" by passing a resolution calling for “a change in leadership in the Texas House speakership,” in Speaker Straus for blocking the consideration of conservative bills pending in the upcoming special session, including the lingering bathroom bill. Chairman Robert Stovall, who is elected by primary voters, opposed the resolution. It is unclear what impact if any the anti-Straus resolution will have on statewide political matters. Meanwhile, three days before the beginning of the special legislative session, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said that he fears Straus' pending school finance bill because the costs could lead to a state income tax to meet the extra obligations. Patrick's plan calls for pay hikes for educators and retirees and relief to the more prosperous school districts which must send some local funds to Austin to help pay for the overall public education system.
San Antonio Express-News supports Straus, which is his hometown newspaper. Columnist Josh Brodesky in 2017 suggested that Straus should seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2020. A dozen or so San Antonio businesspeople, in a letter, urged Straus to continue to block passage of the bathroom bill. They claim that the bill "diverts much needed attention from what really matters."
On August 15, 2017, Straus adjourned a special session of the Texas House early, without permitting a vote on the bill restricting transgender bathroom access.
- "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."
- Fernandez, Manny; Montgomery, David (July 18, 2017). "Bathroom Bill Tests Clout of Rare Moderate in Increasingly Conservative Texas". New York Times. New York City. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
- "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.
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- 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.
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- "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. Archived from the original on June 10, 2012. 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. Archived from the original on March 7, 2014. 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
- 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
- "Republican primary returns". Texas Secretary of State. March 2, 2016. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
- "2016 General Election - RESULTS". enrpages.sos.state.tx.us. Retrieved 2016-11-09.
- "In Straus' big win, a big repudiation", San Antonio Express-News, March 5, 2016, p. A14
- Josh Brodesky, "Straus, Hurd display political courage" (opinion), San Antonio Express-News , February 3, 2017, p. A11
- Jared Woodfill (March 9, 2017). "Joe, Let the Peoples' Representatives Vote on SB 6". Conservative Republicans of Texas News. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
- christian-candidates-rise-replace-republican-representatives-refuse-publicly-support-sb-6-no-men-womens-bathrooms/?newsletter_uid=2687&newsletter_date=05%2F03%2F17 "Call for Conservative Christian candidates to Rise Up and Replace Republican Representatives Who Refuse to Support SB6, "No Men in Women's Bathrooms!"" Check
|url=value (help). crtxnews.com. May 3, 2017. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
- Jared Woodfill (May 8, 2017). "Straus and Cook Are Killing Religious Liberties Bills in the Texas House". Conservative Republicans of Texas News. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
- Steven F. Hotze (June 7, 2017). "Hurray for Governor Abbott for Calling Special Session and Including SB 6, The Women's Privacy Act, "No Men in Women's Bathrooms!"". Conservative Republicans of Texas. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
- Jared Woodfill (June 16, 2017). "Sexual Predator Violates Woman in Texas Target Store, SB 6 Must Be Passed Immediately". Conservative Republicans of Texas News. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
- Peggy Fikac, "Straus could slam door on special session: He has power to adjourn the House," San Antonio Express-News, June 25, 2017, pp. 1, A20.
- The Trey Ware Show, KTSA, July 12, 2017.
- Peggy Fikac, "Austin duo's war of words is heating up: Patrick blasts school plan that is favored by Straus," San Antonio Express-News, July 14, 2017, pp. 1, A6.
- Josh Brodesky, "Joe Straus for president, and here's why," San Antonio Express-News, July 16, 2017, p. F3.
- Joshua Fechter, "Local execs blast bathroom bill: Call it a 'detriment' in letter to Straus," San Antonio Express-News, July 21, 2017, p. B1.
- Chuck Lindell (August 16, 2017). ""A Fiery Dan Patrick Lashes Out at Speaker Straus"". Austin American-Statesman.
- 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