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Simpson Withdraws, Straus Reelected by Acclamation

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

After the last of his challengers dropped out Tuesday, San Antonio Republican Joe Straus was elected to a third term as speaker of the Texas House.

That last challenger, Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, never found enough support to threaten the incumbent. An earlier challenger, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, dropped out weeks ago as Simpson entered the race.

Saying he wasn’t certain of victory and didn’t want to put other members at risk by forcing a vote, Simpson withdrew from the race. “Absent certainty at winning this contest, at the request of my colleagues, I withdraw from this contest,” he said in a speech to the full House.

When it came time for the House to vote Tuesday — the first day of the 83rd Legislature — Straus was re-elected by acclamation.

The seeds of Simpson’s challenge were planted two years ago. Simpson, in his freshman term, ignored experienced members who advised him to take a back seat and learn his way around, instead battling against legislation that would limit puppy mills and for legislation restricting security searches at airports. He lost both battles, but won a reputation for independence.

Simpson started his speech Tuesday by quoting English writer G.K. Chesterton: “I believe in getting into hot water. It keeps you clean.”

Straus, first elected in 2009, has been criticized by some Republicans as too moderate. But he buttressed his position in leadership during the last election cycle, supporting re-election bids of representatives who opposed him in his elections two years and four years ago. Straus became speaker with a coalition that included about four Democrats for every Republican. Two years later, he was re-elected with all but 18 votes; that total included enough Republicans that he would have won without a single Democrat.

After Simpson spoke, it was Straus’ show. The members nominating him for another term included Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who two years ago abstained from the vote for speaker. In spite of that vote — not in favor of the incumbent — he said he was “treated fairly and respectfully” and was able to pursue legislation he favored.

In the months leading up to this election, Straus had opposition on both ends of the political spectrum: conservative activists wary of his support from Democrats, on one hand, and Democrats who thought they deserve more power for that support, on the other.

With the election out of the way, Straus is now free to organize the House, naming committee chairmen and members. That generally takes a few weeks; two years ago, Straus made those assignments on Feb. 9. 

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.
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