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Texas House Speaker preaches optimism at chamber luncheon

Joe Straus says lawmakers ready to get to work

SAN ANTONIO – Texas House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio addressed a Chamber of Commerce luncheon downtown Tuesday, telling a packed house of business leaders and elected officials that lawmakers are ready to get to work in January on issues important to Texans.

"Now that the elections are over the House is ready to come together and get back to work," Straus said. "And I feel good. I feel very, very good about the upcoming legislative session. We focus on the priorities that matter the most, we seek common ground, we build consensus."

Straus said lawmakers will tackle a number of important issues in the 2015 session.

He said the top issue might be improving higher education.

"A world-class economy needs a world-class workforce, and that's why we're going to make higher education a focal point in 2015," Straus said.

He said the Legislature will also work on economic development issues and provide more money for highways and transportation.

"Our mobility needs in Texas have been pretty well documented," Straus said. "Traffic's getting worse."

He also noted that voters approved sending some money from oil and gas taxes into the highway fund and said the Legislature may actually stop draining that fund for other projects.

"Using our highway fund for transportation will steer billions more to transportation without raising taxes," Straus said.

His prediction of stability and progress in the Legislature comes after a major upheaval at the top tier of Texas politics.

A 14-year run as governor came to an end for Rick Perry, ushering in the Greg Abbott era.

Republican firebrand Dan Patrick takes over from David Dewhurst as lieutenant governor and will preside over the senate.

That change is making Democratic senators like Carlos Uresti of San Antonio a bit wary.

"There's going to be a lot of changes," Uresti said. "I'm a strong believer in the philosophy of 'to the victor goes the spoils.' I think Dan Patrick, he's going to want to lead. I believe he can do that."

Uresti said he hopes the changes he faces are not too extreme.

"Hopefully we'll be able to work together, Democrats and Republicans," Uresti said. "A majority of the issues are not partisan issues. Let us be at the table, let us have input because we have constituents that we have to protect too."

The chamber luncheon was not just about the Legislature.

There were mayoral undertones as well.

One announced candidate for San Antonio mayor was there and so was one who may announce.

Mike Villarreal has announced and he was there to press the flesh.

Senator Leticia Van de Putte also made an appearance and is being urged to run.

City Councilman Ron Nirenberg has also been mentioned as a possible mayoral contender and he was there with several Council colleagues.

Even Straus made a joke of the unsettled race for mayor, noting his intentions.

"I'd like to announce that I will not be running for mayor of Terrell Hills," Straus said.

Away from the podium, Straus addressed his status as House speaker and the prospect of him being re-elected to that post in January.

"(I'm) very confident of being re-elected and being re-elected with a strong majority of both parties," Straus said.

And he downplayed tactics by other lawmakers to take away his support in favor of other candidates.

"I don't see how you can grow in political strength and influence if what you're doing is threatening people," Straus said. "And if you don't support me, I'll come after you."

As for working with Patrick in the Senate, he hopes the relationship will be one of cooperation and doing what's needed for the people of Texas.