Two Chambers, Two Visions: Republican Leaders Divided on Next Legislature

“We’ve got a two-party state and both parties are Republican parties.”

By Rhonda FanningNovember 30, 2016 1:13 pm

In this era of hyper-partisan politics, the denouement of the Democrat’s house leadership fight on capitol hill today is an important reminder of something: not all the major battles are initiated by the other side.

There’s no better example of that than what’s shaping up in our own backyard. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, leader of the senate, and House Speaker Rep. Joe Straus are both Republican but each with different ideas, agendas, strengths and weaknesses.

Straus is a four-time champion of the biennial Texas house speaker vote, on his way to an apparent fifth win in the upcoming session in January. Patrick is the man who beat out an incumbent in a general election two years ago and who has become one of the country’s loudest conservative bullhorns in the culture wars.

As the new legislative session fast approaches, it’s not at all clear if the two are on the same track. For instance, speaking to the Texas Tribune recently, Straus showed little interest in one of Patrick’s top priorities – prohibiting transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice.

“This isn’t the most urgent concern of mine,” Straus said. Some of Patrick’s other initiatives are also getting a shrug of Straus’ shoulders.

Ross Ramsey, executive editor and co-founder of the Texas Tribune has been cogitating on this very question. He wrote an analysis of the two Texas leaders.

“We’ve got a two-party state and both parties are Republican parties,” Ramsey says. “In some ways, Joe Straus and Dan Patrick exemplify two strong wings of the Texas Republican party, Texas conservatives.”

Straus is more of a traditional Republican, Ramsey says. The sort you would find 20 or 30 years ago in Texas. He’s more of an establishment guy – more moderate on social issues and conservative on economic issues.

While Patrick, Ramsey says, is one of the more successful populists in the state.

“He’s in line with the most conservative elements of the party,” Ramsey says, “the populists, the social conservatives, the people who call themselves movement conservatives.”

Ramsey says the differences in Patrick’s and Straus’ priorities have little to do with their personal politics and a lot to do with how they are elected and by whom.

Straus is elected by members of the House.

“It’s like an election for high school class president,” Ramsey says. “You know everybody who votes for you. In the Texas house, you know all of the members, every one of them. How they’re gonna vote, why they’re gonna vote, who pushed you off the slide in the third grade.”

But with Patrick, the dynamic is different, Ramsey says. Patrick was elected by the public and “kind of happened to the Senate.”

So what will we see between the House and the Senate for the 85th Legislative Session? A lot of negotiating and cajoling, Ramsey says.

“You send roses and then you send hand grenades.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.