If you need a discouraging example of the growing rift threatening the Republican Party’s long-term future, you need not look to the chaos of Washington. Consider the bombshell Texas House Speaker Joe Straus dropped last week when he announced his decision not to seek another term as a state representative. If you’re a Republican who believes social issues and “family values” from a fundamentally Christian perspective should define the Republican Party and Texas life, you cheered Straus’ announcement. If you’re a Republican who believes that politicians should stay out of our bedrooms and bathrooms and that they should instead help invigorate the business climate, public education and tomorrow’s workforce, you may well be contemplating relocation to another state.
Whatever you think of Straus’ brand of conservatism, there’s no doubt he offered a worthy model of governance. Elected speaker in 2009 by a coalition of Democrats and some common-sense conservatives in the Republican Party, Straus governed accordingly. While the Texas Senate has become more impractical and unapologetically partisan under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the House has allowed Republicans and Democrats to share in governance with resulting legislation better reflecting the diversity of Texas. We have debated strongly for this model in the U.S. House with influential Republican Congressman Bill Flores, but he remains loyal to the so-called Hastert Rule, a model for tawdry partisanship. Now some Republicans seek to bring such destructive partisanship to the Texas House.
Ideological right-wingers dismiss House Speaker Straus as a RINO — “Republican In Name Only” — but in fact he harkens back to an authentic, old-fashioned vein of Republicanism that believed in less governance and fewer regulations, both in business and daily life. For instance, Texas’ business community cheered his opposition to the “bathroom bill” because, for all the Bible-thumping rhetoric of Patrick and his ilk, no one furnished evidence hordes of transgender people are preying on women and children in public restrooms. And one cherished tenet of conservatism holds that you don’t pass laws without a proven need for them. On the other hand, this newspaper soured on Straus after his fealty to the business community clouded his good judgment on an even greater priority: safeguarding transparency when it comes to taxpayer dollars mixing with private endeavors.
Straus isn’t leaving with the outrage shown in Washington by fellow departing Republicans such as Sen. Jeff Flake. He insists that he wants to explore other opportunities — he’s 58 — and that he believes elected officials shouldn’t hold office forever. Fair enough. Yet, given that candidates regularly claim they’re pursuing public service in the manner one serves in the military, one is entitled to ask if Straus and other Republicans concerned about extremism in the party aren’t heading for the home front just as the battle intensifies. Whatever House Republicans and Democrats do in 2019, Joe Straus’ absence will rob both Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott of a convenient Republican foil — and thus test their own political prudence and statesmanship.