Texas House Speaker Joe Straus to head national push to turn more legislatures red

vchicola RSLC News

Written by Robert T. Garrett
for Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN — Texas House Speaker Joe Straus had to curb his enthusiasm Tuesday when, as expected, he was named the head of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, a national GOP group that aims to turn more legislatures red.

Republicans have been annihilating the Democrats’ “bench” of state officeholders so rapidly in recent cycles that you could almost read a how-do-I-top-that lament in Straus’ reaction.

“We have a lot of ground to defend,” Straus said in a statement.

Boy, is that an understatement.

After the 2014 midterms, Republicans held majorities in 69 of 99 state legislative chambers. That was a 10-chamber increase. Back in prehistoric times — before the 2010 election, to be precise — the GOP controlled just 36 state legislative bodies.

If there’s a ceiling on how many statehouses Republicans can conquer, it well could present itself during next year’s high-turnout presidential election — that is, if there’s a high turnout. The GOP has a lot of turf to defend. But it’s playing offense on some presumably receptive ground, in states such as Iowa and Kentucky.

Straus, R-San Antonio, said he looks “forward to the challenge” of holding and possibly adding to his party’s recent gains as the committee’s chairman for 2016. This year, he’s the group’s vice chairman.

Straus said he and the new vice chairman, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, “are confident that voters will continue to prefer the conservative leadership that Republicans have delivered throughout the country.”

For years, Straus has been active in the legislative committee’s parent group, theRepublican State Leadership Committee. It focuses not just on state legislative contests, but races for state posts such as lieutenant governor, attorney general, judicial posts and, where it’s not an appointive post, secretary of state.

The leadership committee plans to spend $40 million in the 2016 cycle — about the norm, according to this analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

As the largest “caucus” in the umbrella organization, Straus’ legislative sub-unit “will be the largest part of that budget,” said leadership committee spokeswoman Ellie Wallace.

In the 2014 cycle, Koch Industries — owned by the conservative Koch brothers — gave the group nearly $400,000, though that made it only the 10th largest contributor, according to this analysis by the center.

In June, Amway co-founder and social conservative activist Richard DeVos of Michigan, along with eight members of his family, gave $125,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee PAC, according to a report filed at the Texas Ethics Commission. DeVos is a big backer of Focus on the Family and has supported GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

In July, Straus spoke with reporters, including my colleague Tom Benning, about his party-building efforts. You can read Tom’s post here.


 

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vchicolaTexas House Speaker Joe Straus to head national push to turn more legislatures red