Lawmaker News

The case for Bill Flores for Speaker

Paul Ryan checks a lot of boxes as a potential Speaker of the House: two-time committee chairman, policy expert, thoughtful public servant, persuasive conservative, national figure and reliable party spokesman.

In the next week or so, we should know if he will run for Speaker, a job he has actively resisted in the past, just as he has resisted open-seat runs for governor and U.S. senator.

If Ryan resists, the race for Speaker will be wide open.

The only question that matters is: Who can get 218 votes?

{mosads}The House Republican Conference will select its nominee and that requires a simple majority of 247 Republican members. But then that person has to be able to get 218 votes on the House floor (a majority of the 435-member House) to formally be elected Speaker.

The House Freedom Caucus, which boasts a membership of over 40 hardline conservative Republicans, can block any Republican from becoming Speaker. Their willingness to support a “motion to vacate the chair” is the primary reason John Boehner became the first Speaker since 1989 to leave in the middle of a term. If a Speaker nominee can not win 218 GOP votes on the floor, that would put them in an impossible position: step aside (inviting more chaos) or be elected Speaker with Democratic votes (an unimaginable scenario).

Let me get this disclaimer out of the way: I was campaign manager for Bill Flores in 2010, when he won a five-way primary and unseated the longest-serving Democrat in the Texas delegation, 10-term Rep. Chet Edwards.

That race resulted in the largest margin of victory of the 63 GOP challengers that won in 2010, with Flores even surprisingly beating Edwards in his home county.

How did he do it?

There were a number of critical factors: He ran as a conservative, he worked really hard and put an outstanding team together, he invested over $1 million of his own money, and he sold voters on his successful business career. But most importantly, he had a great sense of timing.

Edwards endorsed Obama on the suspension bridge in Waco in 2008, an image we must have used 1,000 times. Edwards voted for the stimulus bill, for the Obama budget and for the rule on ObamaCare. Once a Blue Dog, Edwards fell in love with liberal Democrats, with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) even nominating him for Obama’s vice presidential shortlist, for which he was vetted.

Edwards got out on a limb. Flores sawed off that limb. He was the right man at the right time.

Other quality candidates, state representatives and military veterans, tried to beat Edwards, but they never could.

Flores picked the 2010 midterms and ran to win.

His congressional career, though only five years in, tells us much.

He currently chairs the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the 170-member block of conservative members who advocate for conservative policy. He served with Ryan on the Budget Committee and they became friends and colleagues. After serving on the Natural Resources Committee for two terms, in this Congress he moved up to the Energy and Commerce Committee, perhaps the most powerful committee on Capitol Hill due to its vast jurisdiction. He also chaired the House Conservatives Fund, raising money to elect conservative candidates across the country.

Can he do the job?

Indeed, the Speakership is a very tough job, but Flores is an extremely effective fundraiser (Texas and energy, primarily), a good listener, has excellent instincts and builds strong relationships. He has a built-in whip operation through the RSC and a strong base within the Texas Republican House delegation, which has 25 members.

From a personal standpoint, his children are grown and he can devote the time to the job, including weekends. This is a major difference with Ryan.

I can foresee Ryan being personally comfortable with Flores as Speaker.

A current member of leadership might have a better chance than Flores to be elected, or start from a stronger position. But the question is, who can peel off some votes within the House Freedom Caucus while holding the rest of the conference together?

Flores can. I’m not sure Reps. Peter Roskam (Ill.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) or even Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) can (he has his own problems).

Bill Flores could be just the fresh face that the GOP conference is looking for.

Mackowiak is syndicated columnist; an Austin, Texas-based Republican consultant; and a former Capitol Hill and George W. Bush administration aide.

Tags Bill Flores Chet Edwards House Freedom Caucus John Boehner Paul Ryan Speaker Speaker of the House Speakership Texas
See all Hill.TV See all Video