Texas House speaker to retire after battles with conservatives

Texas House speaker to retire after battles with conservatives

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R) announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of his current term in office, a decision that comes after a year in which his battles with conservatives in the state Senate dominated Lone Star State politics.

Straus, who is from San Antonio, has served as Speaker since 2009. He is seen as a close ally of business interests in Austin and a pillar of traditional Republican conservatism.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime,” Straus said in an email to supporters.

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This year, Straus battled with archconservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who controls the state Senate, over a handful of Patrick’s top priorities. Patrick pitched a so-called bathroom bill that drew heated opposition from business and civil rights groups around the state, which said such a measure would cost Texas’s economy.

The battle consumed much of Texas’s biannual legislative session earlier this year, forcing a special session after the two chambers could not agree on what is usually an uncontroversial reauthorization of several state agencies. Gov. Greg Abbott (R), delicately balancing his own politics between moderates and conservatives, often acted as a shuttle diplomat between the warring sides.

At the height of the dispute, Patrick launched a barrage of attacks, some intensely personal. In an interview with The Hill in July, Patrick called Straus “totally out of touch with the Republican Party of Texas.”

Straus told The Hill he didn’t take the attacks personally. He said Patrick had been “unusually distant” in his comments.

Straus, the first Jewish Speaker in Texas history, also endured a fusillade of anti-Semitic assaults on social media, complete with swastikas and other Nazi imagery. Even some state Republicans who wanted to replace Straus said they would prefer a Christian hold the Speaker’s office.

In his note to supporters, Straus acknowledged the bitter division in Texas Republican politics, though he did not name Patrick or Abbott.

“I will also continue to work for a Republican Party that tries to bring Texans together instead of pulling us apart,” Straus wrote. “Our party should be dynamic and forward-thinking, and it should appeal to our diverse population with an optimistic vision that embraces the future. I plan to be a voice for Texans who want a more constructive and unifying approach to our challenges, from the White House on down.”

Straus’s announcement will be interpreted as another instance of a traditional Republican bowing out of office in the face of an evolving electorate. The email came a day after Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Ariz.), who has fought his own battles with a rival faction of the Republican Party loyal to President Trump, said he would not seek reelection next year.