AUSTIN, Texas – In the span of a week, he was asked to step down as Texas Speaker of the House and called the architect of a Ponzi scheme, and that was by members of his own party. So how does Joe Straus keep his cool, amid political sniping?
"You know, in politics, it's a tough sport, and sometimes you're going to have to put the personal comments to the side if you're going to be focused on results, which is what I try to do," Straus said.
As he sits in his Capitol office, Straus talks about letting things “roll off his back.” One of his biggest critics occupies the office on the other side of the building from his. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s latest critique comes about the speaker’s school finance plan.
"This is a serious plan, which is different than what the speaker laid out in the legislative session and continues to talk about. That was nothing more than an election Ponzi scheme," Patrick said in a news conference last week.
Patrick is the main source of the attacks coming Straus' way, in the 34-minute news conference, he referred to the Speaker more than 15 times, accusing his fellow Republican of everything from trying to implement a state sales tax to dangerous political stunts.
"Well, you know, putting some of his invectives to the side, I was actually encouraged by his presentation," Straus said when asked about Patrick’s presentation.
Encouraged because Patrick was talking about school finance, a priority for Straus. The conflict with the lieutenant governor began over one of Patrick's priorities, the so called “bathroom bill.” The Texas House derailed the legislation during the regular session and Straus said he opposes the bill because he believes it would harm the state's economy. He also told a reporter for the New Yorker Magazine "tell the lieutenant governor I don't want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands."
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"My concerns have been mostly on the economic side of the ledger, but there’s a human aspect of this as well, I did say it," Straus said.
The speaker also points out he answers to a much different constituency that Patrick or even the governor himself. His priorities come from the district he represents and all 150 members of the House.
"I think they appreciate the fact that I know how to govern without being an extremist. I think the legislative output when you have that approach is always the best,” he said. “Even if a few people on the fringes don't like it.”
Along with school finance, the speaker wants to tackle property tax relief and helping retired teachers. As for a possible meeting with Patrick to talk about their differences, Straus said he "would be happy to meet with the lieutenant governor or the governor if they want to talk about meeting the challenges that face all Texans."
The special session begins Tuesday.