Thank You, Texas

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Joe Straus served as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives from 2009 until 2019. He was the first Speaker of the House from San Antonio in a century, and he’s the longest-serving Republican Speaker in Texas history.

Speaker Straus has been widely praised for his focus on the core responsibilities of government and his constructive governing style. As the presiding officer of the Texas House, he focused on priorities and issues that support private-sector growth.

Speaker Straus has often identified public education as the state’s best economic development tool. Under his leadership, the Texas House pushed for more funding of public schools, improved career readiness, reduced  testing and helped more students access needed special education services. The House also put more state universities on the path to top-tier status and made critical investments in higher-education research.

Speaker Straus also put a spotlight on the state’s infrastructure needs. He led the successful 2013 campaign to fund the long-heralded State Water Plan, and the House also significantly increased transportation resources under his leadership.

Speaker Straus is a champion of mental health reform. In 2015, he created the Select House Committee on Mental Health. And under his leadership, the House expanded mental health services for Veterans, provided critical matching funds for effective local programs, and launched needed repairs to state mental health facilities. Speaker Straus also prioritized child protection, leading the House to provide the funding needed to hire more than 1,000 additional Child Protective Services caseworkers in 2017. In order to continue the House’s work on behavioral health issues, in late 2017, Speaker Straus created the House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse.

In addition to his policy achievements, Speaker Straus has championed an inclusive and pragmatic approach to governing that brings Texans together to confront major challenges. In 2017, he led the successful fight against discriminatory legislation that threatened severe economic harm. As a result of his principled stand on that issue, the Dallas Morning News named Speaker Straus its 2017 Texan of the Year. The newspaper wrote that Speaker Straus “protected Texas from some of its worst political impulses, prevented serious damage to the economy and brought together enough bipartisans to check the far-right dominance in the Republican Party.”

A native of San Antonio and a fifth-generation Texan, Speaker Straus began attending Republican meetings as a child with his mother, Joci Straus, who played a key role in building the Texas Republican Party in the second half of the 20th Century. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Speaker Straus served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also managed Lamar Smith’s first campaign for Congress and served as a Republican Precinct Chairman.

Speaker Straus made his first run for public office in 2005, when he won a special election to fill the District 121 vacancy in the Texas House. He would represent northeastern Bexar County in the Texas House for 14 years, from 2005 to 2019. In 2009, at the outset of his third term in the House, his House colleagues voted unanimously to elevate Representative Straus to the position of Speaker. In the years that followed, the members of the House overwhelmingly re-elected Speaker Straus four times.

Speaker Straus and his wife, Julie, live in San Antonio. They have two adult daughters.

I’m leaving the Legislature but not the debate

By Joe Straus

As my time as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives draws to a close, I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve, optimistic about the future and committed to continued progress on our priorities.

As the presiding officer of the House, I have tried to bring people together around common-sense policies that address the challenges posed by a rapidly growing population. These are not the issues that tend to drive headlines or register at the top of opinion polls, but they are the very challenges that will shape our future.

For example, we have strengthened career readiness in our public schools and put more Texas universities on the path to tier one status. We provided long-needed funding for water-supply projects and transportation. And we put a spotlight on our mental health system, which resulted in needed and significant investments in services and behavioral health facilities. Importantly, we have acted on each of these issues while keeping our commitment to fiscal discipline. We’ve balanced budgets, cut billions of dollars in taxes and kept record amounts of money in reserves.

But there is more work to be done, and while I will no longer be shaping these issues from inside the Texas House, I will use my voice and platform to continue advancing the ideas and solutions we need. For example, I’ve often said that public education is the greatest economic development tool we have. It’s past time for the state to make a sizable, sustainable investment in our schools.

I’m looking forward to working with others who are focused on our most severe challenges and greatest opportunities. For example, the Texas 2036 project (founded by education-reform champion Tom Luce) highlights the fact that 65 percent of future jobs in Texas will require a certificate or two- or four-year college degree, yet only about 21 percent of the workforce has achieved those levels of education. All of us need to work together on these types of complex issues.

There will be ample opportunity to continue the policy work that we’ve done in the Texas House over the last 10 years. In addition, I will continue to champion the governing style that I believe has served Texas well.

American politics has become more divisive and tribal over the decade, with the angriest voices often crowding out mainstream concerns. But in the Texas House, we’ve shown that there is a better way to lead – with a pragmatic and inclusive approach that balances adherence to core principles with a sense of collaboration and common purpose.

It has always been our philosophy that the issues that are most worthy of our time and attention — education, infrastructure, economic development — aren’t partisan or especially ideological. These issues are best addressed when we bring all voices to the table. And while we haven’t always achieved the bipartisan cooperation to which we’ve aspired, we very often have. In a political climate that shuns compromise, that’s a real achievement.

Over the last couple of years, Texas voters have voiced support for our approach. It began in the summer of 2017, when the business community joined with leaders from law enforcement, the faith community and education to provide unexpected pushback against discriminatory legislation. Then, in the 2018 party primaries, Republican voters defied conventional wisdom and overwhelmingly supported mainstream conservative candidates over those who pandered to the far-right fringe. Now, with the next legislative session approaching, there is a growing sense of urgency to address the issues that we’ve been talking about for many years, such as school finance, and much less attention on issues that do little more than needlessly divide voters. It’s clear that there is momentum, and growing public support, behind our brand of politics.

Now it’s time to turn this momentum into action. I look forward to working with Texans who are demanding better schools, relief from high property taxes and a comprehensive, modern approach to economic development. I also hope Texans will join me in calling for unifying, constructive political leadership, leadership that has the credibility and moral clarity to bring us together and solve big problems.

Thank you to all who have given me the opportunity to serve as Speaker, from my constituents in San Antonio to my family to my colleagues in the Texas House. I also want to thank all 29 million of my fellow Texans. It has been an honor to serve you in this role, and I look forward to standing with you to advance the priorities and governing style that will lead Texas to an even brighter future.


Published in the Dallas Morning News, Jan. 3, 2019