The meeting was mostly filled with the non-productive business of reading the minutes from the previous meetings and informing the public on what party officials have already decided. However this meeting had one decidedly important point of business that can't be underestimated. That the grassroots was behind this point of business was obvious by their presence in this meeting. It was a packed house for this party. What was this point of business? Two resolutions that were put forward by the people through their precinct chairs. Both resolutions addressed the election of the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives by Representative John Otto.
The first one, put forward by precinct chair Brian Smith, resolved that the Liberty County Republican Party endorse Scott Turner as the next Speaker. It was hotly debated and in the end was voted down by a margin of 8-4. First notice that 30% of the chairs in attendance voted for the resolution. This a big step in the right direction. Still most of my liberty friends would look at this as a loss. I do not. We need to remember that Liberty County is the stronghold of Rep. Otto. Rep. Otto is a very powerful representative. He is also a very close ally to the current speaker, Joe Straus. It is no accident that Rep. Otto made a special appearance at this meeting. He was forced to stand before "his club" and defend Speaker Straus. This was not a conversation that he wanted to have and it was clear to everyone in the room. His best attempt at a defense for Speaker Straus was to attack Turner. The grassroots are better informed than Rep. Otto realized going into this meeting.
The second resolution, put forward by precinct chair and party vice-chairman Klint Bush, did pass. This was the real win that nobody is discussing. In many ways, Klint's resolution was stronger than the previous one. Most of the debate and discussion took place during the first resolution. Everyone had already voiced their opinions and the statements they came prepared to give. They had nothing more to say and only paid attention to what the resolutions didn't say (i.e., Scott Turner) and not what it did say. The failed resolution was a local party endorsement for Turner. It did not specifically name Rep. Otto, though it certainly was implied that he should be voting for Turner. The passed resolution reads as following:
Whereas: The County Executive Committee of the Liberty County Republican Party calls on our State Representative John Otto to elect a conservative Republican as the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives."
There is no ambiguity in this resolution. Rep, John Otto elect a conservative for speaker! Some that voted against this resolution did so because "conservative" is ambiguous in and of itself. In effect they are saying, "the resolution has no teeth in it since anyone can claim to be conservative." This is true. However, Rep. Otto is, and always was, free to vote for Straus if he so chooses. Nobody claims (or expects) otherwise. Rep. Otto has enjoyed very strong support from the voters in Liberty County. This resolution is a loud statement to Rep. Otto that his constituents want a conservative Speaker. We are watching both him and the speaker he elects. The resolution gets better. It continues with:
Resolved: That the Liberty County Republican Party Executive Committee calls of State Representative Otto to represent the conservative constituents of House District 18 by electing a Speaker candidate that will better represent our ideas and values of this House District.
This is where it becomes even clearer. Words have meanings. To say we want "better" representation in a Speaker can only mean we aren't happy with the current Speaker. Rep. Otto will undoubtedly vote again for Speaker Straus. He may even claim Sraus is more conservative than Turner. If he does, he will again be forced to defend Straus. He doesn’t want to have to do that, but we have forced it. The resolution get even better.
We call on Representative Otto to adhere to the State Republican Platform as read:
The Republican Platform of the 2012 State Convention calls for the Texas House Leadership Caucus:
We call for the Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives to convene in caucus after each November general election to determine by secret ballot their candidate for Speaker of the House, and that rules be instituted to ensure the integrity and security of the secret ballot so that members may vote without risk of retribution by the prevailing party. We also call for Republican members of the Texas House to vote as a unified body for their selected speaker candidate when the Legislature convenes in regular session and a vote for speaker is called on the House Floor.
I can't help but celebrate any resolution that calls on our State Rep to adhere to the State Platform. It's a novel idea these days. While I'm not particularly fond of secret ballots. I understand the motivation behind it. The purpose of the secret ballot is to prevent the prevailing party from retribution. The problem lies in the practical consequences. If it's a secret from the prevailing party, it is also secret from the electorate. That being said, clearly the motivation behind the state platform and this county resolution is to allow the State Reps to vote without fear of payback from the winner. Both the state party and our local party are in agreement this is bad. Would a prevailing Speaker really punish his enemies? Apparently if the said Speaker is Joe Straus, then the answer is YES. An article recently published by Empower Texans records Straus using the Texas Ethics Commission to punish conservative senators. The article can be found here: http://www.empowertexans.com/features/ethics-chair-admits-attacking-conservatives-to-appease-straus-team/
So what are we to make of this resolution? Was it a home run for the grassroots? No, it certainly was not. We could have done better. However this resolution, which passed by the same margin that the other failed 8-4, did send a message. We are paying attention and most importantly we will show up and let it be known that we expect real conservative representation, whether in the Speaker or our State Rep. Local activists holding Rep. Otto accountable is new for this county and that my friends is a big step in right direction. A short term win for a long term goal.
The complete resolution can be found here:
Art Sisneros, Vice-Chairman RLC of CD36