Joe Straus, the Republican who has presided over the House for nearly a decade, said that’s because win-at-all-cost politics may be effective at the state level, but “it creates carnage down-ballot in a changing state where a Republican Party and the state of Texas are moving in opposite directions.”
The “small issues” that were popular among Republican primary voters didn’t resonate in November, he said.
“Something had to give sooner or later,” Straus said Wednesday .
In a wide-ranging conversation in his Capitol office with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith for the pilot episode of the Texas Tribune’s new podcast, Point of Order, Straus launched jabs at two fellow Republicans: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and President Donald Trump. Straus, who is leaving the House in January, declined to weigh in on who should succeed him as leader of the chamber.
He lamented that the Texas House and Senate were unable to find common ground on divisive political issues. Patrick, who presides over the Senate, should “listen more and talk less,” Straus said.
Tuesday’s election results might have been a direct reprimand of policies pushed by the Trump administration, he said. The Democratic pick-ups in the House marked the biggest shift in the lower chamber since the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans gained more than 20 House seats. Straus decried Trump rallies that he said showcased “borderline racism.”
“Some of [Trump’s] rhetoric is extremely divisive,” he added. It’s dark. It’s not unifying. It’s not factual in many cases, and I think that’s the wrong direction for the leader of any party.”
Straus added that he believes some of Trump’s policies have been good for Texas but added, “I don’t think you can look at Trump and put the tweets and the rhetoric aside. That was a big overhang over the national election last night.”
Texas Republicans were ultimately victorious Tuesday — the GOP swept all statewide races and still maintain a majority in the Texas House and Senate.
Still, Straus credited U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign, which he called “energetic” and “positive,” for turning out an unprecedented amount of Democrats.
GOP leaders in the Legislature need to “broaden their agendas and offer a more optimistic vision for the future,” he said.
“The results of the election last night showed a level of humility I hadn’t seen from some of our leaders in the past,” Straus later added. “That could lead to a shift in thinking and a more pragmatic approach.”
He said he was optimistic that next year’s Legislature would prioritize measures like public education, higher education and workforce development.
But before House members can select the items on their agenda, they have to choose who will succeed Straus — who served five terms in the lower chamber. Straus announced in October he did not plan to run for re-election.