Conservative groups target Speaker Straus after ‘bathroom bill’ failure

Speaker of the House Joe Straus leaving the Reagan building on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Speaker of the House Joe Straus leaving the Reagan building on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Throughout the regular legislative session and even into the special session, one of the defining issues was restricting access to bathrooms depending on your biological sex.

After all the debate, the Texas Privacy Act, also known as the “bathroom bill,” failed to pass. The blame, or the credit, for that goes to Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and his leadership team in the lower chamber.

Fearing business backlash and heeding advice from law enforcement, the bill never came through the procedural process for a vote in the House. Now, some of the most conservative members want to begin the process for a more “conservative” speaker.

The House Republican Caucus met across the Texas State Capitol in the Reagan building Wednesday morning to set up a system to elect a speaker candidate from within the Republican party instead of a vote of the entire House, which includes Democrats.

Straus emerged from the closed door meeting with a smile. “We had a good conversation,” Straus told a swarm of reporters as he left the room, “I enjoyed it. I think all of us did.”

The Texas House is led by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. Many believe that team is the reason the state didn’t pass the “bathroom bill.” The most vocal critic remains to be Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He expressed his anger at Straus Tuesday night when both chambers couldn’t agree on a property tax rollback bill and gaveled out of the special session.

“You have a speaker that says ‘I will kill privacy, no matter what the people of Texas want’ and the people of Texas don’t want their children showering together in 10th grade,” said Patrick.

A small group of House members and Patrick allies known as the House Freedom Caucus pushed for the meeting on Wednesday and their leader emerged in a good mood after starting the process.

“We were very encouraged by the meeting today. It was healthy. It was positive,” said Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler.

Democrats, some of whom have leadership roles in the House, sided with Straus, the business community and law enforcement leaders against the “bathroom bill.”

“I’m hopeful that the more moderate, Texas-focused Republicans prevail versus the extreme Republicans that we’ve seen,” said Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, and House Democratic Whip told reporters at a post session news conference.

After the caucus meeting, Straus released a statement praising the Texas House members and Gov. Greg Abbott for calling a special session. Patrick was left out.

Speaker Straus said:

I enjoyed this morning’s Republican Caucus meeting. It was good to hear from many of our Members, and I’m glad I had the chance to thank them for the work they’ve done and the sacrifices they’ve made. I want to thank Governor Abbott for working with the House on his very ambitious agenda in the special session. We considered every idea carefully, listened to constituents, and acted on a number of critical issues, such as helping retired teachers. House Members voted for new limits on property-tax growth and significant school finance reforms, but in the short time available, we did not reach final agreement with the Senate on those issues.”

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