Speaker Straus Remarks to Begin the 85th Legislature
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus delivered the following remarks to begin the 85th Legislature after his Texas House colleagues elected him to a fifth term as Speaker of the House.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Members, for giving me the chance to once again serve as your Speaker. I appreciate your support and your confidence.
Serving with you is one of the great privileges of my life, and I hope you know that I will never take your trust for granted.
Or as one of my predecessors, Gib Lewis, said almost 30 years ago, “The office you have bestowed upon me fills me with a deep sense … of humidity.”
We know that he didn’t actually say that, of course, but it makes for too good of a story.
I want to welcome the families of our Members who are here today. Our families don’t just send us off to serve in this House. They serve with us.
From parents who believed in us from Day One, to spouses who pick up the slack, to children we tell “goodnight” over the telephone: It’s their support that allows us to be here.
I especially want to thank my own family: my parents, Joci and Joe; my sisters, Lyn and Susan; our daughters, Robyn and Sara; and of course Julie.
I could not be more proud of Julie’s service to this House. She makes Members and your families feel welcome here. She helps turn the Capitol into a classroom for students who visit. And she gives many of us, especially me, the encouragement we need to make it through our longest days.
Now, our families also keep us humble. A few months ago, I told Julie that Doctor Zerwas and Doctor Oliverson had invited me to speak to a convention of their fellow anesthesiologists.
Without skipping a beat, Julie looked at me and replied … “Well Joe, I’ve sat through a lot of your speeches … and considering what anesthesiologists do for a living, I think you’ll fit right in.”
And just so you know, I got the hint, and today I’m going to try to be brief.
I want to thank the Members who put my name into nomination, as well as Secretary Pablos and all of our guests who have helped us begin this session on the right note.
And of course, I want to thank all of the other visitors here today.
Whether you are supporters from back home, or just engaged citizens, we’re glad you’ve joined us.
To my fellow Members:
The Texans we represent have entrusted us with a solemn duty and a rare responsibility: a charge to provide leadership for this state over the next two years.
Each of you is here because you belong here. Your constituents put you on this floor because you spoke to their concerns and earned their votes.
In the months ahead, we will come to this chamber to deliberate thousands of your ideas and proposals.
We will have moments of levity, and tension, and unity. We will disagree on some legislation and agree on much more.
But what looms larger than any single bill is the set of core principles that I hope will guide our work. These principles form the foundation of our approach to governing. They transcend politics and personal ambitions, because they speak to our common experiences as Texans and our shared vision as public servants.
For example, we believe that our economic strength comes from a healthy and robust private sector. Our economy prospers when government stays out of the way. Low taxes and reasonable regulations … these are the Texas model. And with the 11th largest economy in the world, we know that the Texas model works.
We believe that it’s the private sector that creates opportunities, not the government, and certainly not the Legislature. But we can encourage economic growth by setting and acting on the right priorities. If someone wants to invest in Texas – if they want to create jobs and opportunities in this state -- we should welcome them. This state should invite economic activity … not turn it away.
We believe in responsible stewardship of taxpayer resources. Government should be efficient and accountable. Reducing spending is one way to practice good stewardship, but there’s more to the equation. And perhaps most of all, government should be functional. It should work.
For example, with the right reforms to our mental health system, we can improve millions of lives and save millions of dollars in our jails and emergency rooms. Sensible decisions today will reduce costs in the long run.
So let’s be cautious in our use of taxpayer dollars, but let’s also be smart.
We believe that education is the key to our future. Nothing will take this state further than a well-educated workforce.
Great local schools are the backbone of this state and the heart of many communities. More than 5 million students attend Texas public schools, which cultivate a curiosity and a confidence that will carry those children through life.
We want every campus to excel, but they need our help. Educators and this Legislature should aspire to be partners, not adversaries.
Our school finance system may meet the legal definition of constitutional. But parents and taxpayers know something different. They know that the system is broken … And they know that it’s our job to fix it.
And finally, we believe that children should never have to live in fear of their own parents.
Home ought to be a place of love and support, not abuse and violence. We’ve begun improving Child Protective Services, but our work is far from finished. We can all agree that protecting children is one of the state’s basic and most important responsibilities.
Traumatized children should not be sleeping in government office buildings because they have no safe home and no place else to go. This is Texas. And Texas should be better than that.
Our priorities will be the people’s priorities: The core responsibilities of government … such as education and public safety … matter to Texans’ daily lives, and they matter to this House.
Some challenges will require more than one session to solve. But now is the time to start.
Throughout this session, our shared principles will be tested. And so will the goodwill that fills this chamber today.
But Texans are watching … and we have an opportunity: We can show that there’s still a place for thoughtful and inclusive leadership. We can show that elected officials still know how to solve problems. And we can show that, when necessary, principled leaders still have the courage to compromise.
Compromise has become a dirty word in politics. But in reality, it’s how we find common ground to achieve the common good. And it’s a good word in this House.
Making difficult decisions invites criticism. It comes with the territory.
But I like to remember something I read last year about one of my favorite presidents and political heroes, George H.W. Bush.
Long before he was President Bush, he was Congressman Bush from Houston. And in the late 1960s, he came under attack because he supported legislation aimed at ending racial discrimination in the housing market.
But George Bush didn’t back down. In fact, he described one critic this way: “He couldn’t have been uglier and meaner. But that just made me more determined to do what was right.”
Fifty years later, this is our time to do what’s right … and to conduct ourselves in the right way.
There is a disconnect between the way we talk about politics in this country and the way that most Texans treat each other. The corrosive cynicism that dominates the public discussion of politics does not reflect the character of our people.
The Texans we represent are kind, and they are decent, and they are charitable. They deliver meals to the hungry, comfort the sick, and look after their neighbors.
Our constituents don’t expect us to agree on every issue. They want us to defend our core beliefs. But they also want solutions. They want us to conduct ourselves with civility and respect: respect for each other, and respect for the process of governing.
That’s what Texans do. If you walk into a factory or a restaurant or a hospital, you will find citizens of different races, religions and political beliefs working together every day.
And that’s what Texans should expect of us. So let’s follow their example. Let’s govern with the same sense of goodness -- the same humanity and decency -- that we so clearly recognize in the people we represent.
And since I promised to be brief, and this is not a day to break promises, I want to wrap up by saying one more thing directly to you, my House colleagues:
We may not always agree on issues or approach. But we don’t need to. I want all of us to represent our districts faithfully and successfully, and I am eager to help you, however I can.
I understand that you have chosen to invest your trust in me, and that you take that decision seriously. I take it seriously also.
It is a privilege to be your colleague and an honor to be your Speaker. And as your Speaker, I will advocate for this House, I will defend this House, and I will treasure every day that we serve together in this House.
I want to congratulate all of you on taking the oath of office today. And on behalf of Julie and our entire family, I want to thank you very, very much.