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Our view Area reps must back best House speaker

November 11, 2018

Republican state representatives James White and Dade Phelan can do a lot for their party — and the entire state — in a few weeks. They can support a reasonable candidate for House speaker who will continue the moderating influence of Joe Straus, who was essentially run out of his party for not being extreme enough.

Democrats like state Rep. Joe Deshotel also have a role to play in this quest. But since Republicans will possess an 83-67 margin in the Texas House of Representatives, they have the simple majority of 76 votes and could choose whomever they want.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this vote will be a slam dunk. Both Democrats and Republican have squabbled over the choice of speaker when they had the majority. Often, that requires a coalition of both parties to elect this leader.

That’s not a bad thing either, since bipartisanship has a better chance to help Texas than naked partisanship from one party or another.

For example, if a small band of hardline Republicans refuse to accept a relative moderate like Straus (who did not seek re-election to his House seat), the rest of the party will need a few Democrats to put their candidate over the top. That’s where Democrats like Deshotel come in.

Texas Republicans would do well to read the tea leaves of the last election and come back from the edge. Their majority in the Texas House was 95-55. They lost 12 seats on Tuesday, and some of their candidates who won did so by close margins.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke also came within a few percentage points of upsetting Sen. Ted Cruz. That was the closest Senate race in Texas in 40 years, and no one would have expected anything like that when candidates started filing for primary races in January.

Clearly, Democrats are gaining in Texas, even though they haven’t won a statewide race since 1998. This is still a red state, and might be for many years.

But it’s not so one-sided, and the state’s changing demographics may favor Democrats more than Republicans.

A reasonable House speaker is also needed to counterbalance the greatest divisive force in Texas politics — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He heads the Texas Senate, and his contempt for Democrats (and mainstream Republicans) is rarely hidden.

If Patrick starts pushing disruptive issues in the new legislative session that begins in January, the House speaker needs to stand up to him. Straus did that in the last session and helped prevent an unnecessary “bathroom bill” that would have brought costly boycotts to Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott also needs to resist Patrick, which should be easier now that he is in his second and final term as governor and no longer has to fear a primary challenge from Patrick.

The next session needs to focus on issues that matter to real Texans, like better schools and health care, not petty partisan agendas. A strong speaker is vital to that effort, and state reps like White and Phelan can help make it happen.

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