Back in 2017, when then-Speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, announced he wouldn’t seek reelection, many Texans wondered what would be next for the San Antonio Republican. As of this week, it looks like he will be spending his time promoting centrist politics in Texas through his new political action committee, Texas Forever Forward. And he’s using $2.5 million from his old campaign account to do so.
Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, says Straus’ new PAC is likely part of a larger Republican movement toward the center.
“That’s been a result of some campaigns and the election that just passed where a lot of soul searching has been done in the Republican Party,” Rottinghaus says. “I think that’s the subtext for this.”
But Rottinghaus says the PAC is also part of a Republican effort to broaden the appeal of their party. It will promote and fund candidates who focus on things like health care and education, rather than polarizing social issues – a strategy that Democrats found successful during the 2018 midterms.
“These are the sweet spot for most voters, generally, and also for Republican voters, Rottinghaus says. “This is an opportunity, perhaps, for the Republican Party to kind of reinvent itself.”
Rottinghaus says Straus is more able to succeed as a centrist now that he’s out of his leadership position.
In addition to funding candidates, Rottinghaus says Texas Forever Forward will likely publish research reports that promote its political perspective. He says the PAC will use that to try to convince Texas voters that centrist candidates can win – and govern.
“That’s a tough sell in a Republican primary,” Rottinghaus says. “Many districts, where you’ve got a small number of very conservative people who are choosing the Republican nominee – that often times leads directly to the person wining the general election.”
Rottinghaus says being a centrist in Texas politics today means not talking as much about social issues like abortion, and, instead, focusing on things that affect people’s finances and day-to-day lives.
“I think it’s a kind of moderated position,” Rottinghaus says. “It’s a focus more on education and health care issues that are really kind of pocketbook things for most voters.”
And Straus plans to spend a lot of money through his PAC – he’s promised $2.5 million so far. But that’s compared to the approximately $10 million spent by conservative political advocacy group Empower Texans over the last three legislative sessions, Rottinghaus says.
“We’re talking about, really, I think, the war for the soul of the Republican Party,” Rottinghaus says.
As for Straus’ political future, Rottinghaus says it’s possible he could run for another leadership position in the Texas Legislature.
“Things are changing in Texas. The Republicans are willing to look at moderates and they may be willing to give Joe Straus a second look,” Rottinghaus says.
Written by Caroline Covington.