When the 84th Texas House of Representatives opens for business at noon on Tuesday January 13, 2015 the first order of business will be to elect one member (out of 150 members) to serve as the presiding officer of the Texas House; the House Speaker (a.k.a. the gatekeeper of legislation to be passed). A simple majority vote is required (76 of the 150 members).
Is it a coincidence that within the past week, 42 of the 98 Republicans in the House have signed pledge letters to vote for 3-term incumbent Rep. Joe Straus as Speaker and not for Rep. Scott Turner? Turner announced his intent to run for Speaker against the incumbent Straus this summer. One could suppose these recent pledge letters are a coincidence.
But how much of a coincidence could it be that three of five pledge letters have identical sentences in the publicly released statements…:
“As conservative Members of the Texas House, we are proud to support the re-election of Speaker Joe Straus. Speaker Straus will be decisively re-elected because he encourages members to vote in their districts’ best interests and because he is a fair, principled leader.”
The Aycock and Otto pledge letters open with this exact statement above.
The fifth pledge letter, according to the Texas Tribune, “State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, released a statement Tuesday backing Straus, with 11 other Republican members’ names on it.” The article goes on to quote Rep. Morrison’s pledge letter…
“As conservative Members of the Texas House, we are proud to support the re-election of Speaker Joe Straus,” the statement reads. “Speaker Straus will be decisively re-elected because he encourages members to vote in their districts’ best interests and because he is a fair, principled leader.”
This makes Morrison’s letter the third pledge letter to quote verbatim the same sentences in the Aycock and Otto pledge letters.
Logically, these identical statements could occur if:
1. A caucus of House members met and agreed to these words, and could have solicited support from other members.
– OR –
2. Straus himself could have solicited the support from these members with suggested wording to include in the pledge letters.
Either way, one must be reminded that for 29 years it has been a felony to solicit votes for the Speaker of the House if the solicitation involves promises or threats toward appointments, economic benefit, or preferential treatment on proposed legislation, and punishable by imprisonment for not less than two years nor more than five years.
As well, any House member also commits a felony if they solicit, accept, or agree to accept economic benefit, an appointment, or preferential treatment from a Speaker candidate in return for a vote.
So there you have it. Only the 150 House Members know whether they have crossed the line on pledging support for preferential treatment by Straus, or not. But it’s not hard to predict that someone has dictated a sample pledge letter supporting Straus and circulated it to certain House members, asking for an early public pledge to vote for Straus on Jan. 13, 2015.
There is no early filing deadline for a House member to announce his/her candidacy for House Speaker. Any one of the 150 House members can declare their candidacy between now and midnight January 12th. In that light haste can make a fool.
In 2009 Straus defeated 3-term incumbent Speaker Craddick with 11 Republican votes and 65 Democrat votes. The decision by 11 members to put forth Straus to challenge Craddick was the week before the vote– not earlier. So, even incumbent Speaker Straus announced his candidacy at the 11th hour. Recent history has shown that more than two House Reps throw their hat into the ring for Speaker in the weeks leading up to the first day of session. There are still seven weeks left before all 150 members will cast their vote for Speaker. Who would cast a ballot before they know who all of their choices are? Would you pledge your vote for the 2016 Presidential candidate today, before you know who the candidates will be? Haste can make a fool.
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Texas Government Code
302.032 LEGISLATIVE BRIBERY: PROMISES OR THREATS
A person commits an offense if, with the intent to influence a member of or candidate for the house of representatives in casting a vote for speaker of the house of representatives, the person:
(1) promises or agrees to cause:
(A) the appointment of a person to a chairmanship or vice-chairmanship of a house committee or subcommittee;
(B) the appointment of a person to a particular house committee or subcommittee, the Legislative Budget Board, the Texas Legislative Council, the Legislative Library Board, the Legislative Audit Committee, or any other position the speaker appoints;
(C) preferential treatment on any legislation or appropriation;
(D) the employment of a person; or
(E) economic benefit to a person; or
(2) threatens to cause:
(A) the failure to appoint a person to a chairmanship or vice-chairmanship of a house committee or subcommittee;
(B) the failure to appoint a person to a particular house committee or subcommittee, the Legislative Budget Board, the Texas Legislative Council, the Legislative Library Board, the Legislative Audit Committee, or any other position the speaker appoints;
(C) unfavorable treatment on any legislation or appropriation;
(D) the refusal of or removal from employment of a person; or
(E) the withholding of economic benefit from a person.