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Texas House Speaker Joe Straus Will Not Seek Re-election

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election in 2018, a decision that has the potential to upend the political balance of power in the state.  

Straus, who has lately been the most powerful moderate Republican in the Texas Capitol, said he will serve until the end of his term. That means there will be a new speaker when the Legislature next convenes in 2019. 

His decision immediately created a scrum for control of the House, pitting arch-conservative members who have opposed Straus against more centrist Republicans. Within hours of Straus’ announcement, one of his top lieutenants, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced that he had filed to run for the speaker’s post. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, had previously announced his candidacy, and others are expected to jump in. 

Straus has clashed with hard-line conservatives in recent years, not least Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Tea Party leaders and their allies have blamed Straus for killing controversial measures backed by the far right, most notably a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use. 

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year,” Straus said in a campaign email. 

The announcement prompted gloating by Straus’ critics and regret from his allies. Rep. Matt Schaefer,  R-Tyler, who clashed with Straus as chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, tweeted, “It’s morning in Texas again!” Straus ally Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said, “I’m disappointed but I respect his decision.” 

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican whom Straus has tussled with in recent months, thanked the speaker in a short statement.  

“Joe Straus has served with distinction for both the people in his district and for the Texas House of Representatives,” he said.  

And Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, praised Straus for leading the way on a number of bipartisan initiatives, including improving access to state mental health services and public school accountability reform.  

“His deliberative approach to public policy will be truly missed, as will the inclusive manner in which he ran the House,” Turner said.  

Speaking with reporters after the announcement inside his office, Straus said he finally took the advice he always gives members: After any session, go home and talk to your constituents and family, and then make a decision about whether to run again. 

“A confident leader knows it’s time to give it back,” Straus said. 


Asked if he planned to run for any other office in the future, Straus said he is “not one to close doors.” He acknowledged he has received encouragement to run for other offices and did not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial bid. But he said he doubts he will be on the ballot in 2018. 

As for the race to succeed him as speaker, Straus suggested he would not get involved.  

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who aren’t members in the Legislature in the next session to really register an opinion on that,” Straus said. 

The announcement that he won’t run again immediately set into motion speculation about the future of Straus’ top lieutenants. One of his closest allies, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who is chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said in a statement first reported by Quorum Report that he “will pursue other opportunities to serve our great state.” 

In his statement Straus acknowledged his decision was “unexpected.” 

“It’s been decades since someone has left the Speaker’s office on his own terms. But we have accomplished what I hoped the House would accomplish when I first entered this office, and I am increasingly eager to contribute to our state in new and different ways.” 

No longer serving as speaker would allow a “greater opportunity to express my own views and priorities,” Straus said, adding that he would “continue to work for a Republican Party that tries to bring Texans together instead of pulling us apart.” 

“Our party should be dynamic and forward-thinking, and it should appeal to our diverse population with an optimistic vision that embraces the future,” Straus said in the campaign email. “I plan to be a voice for Texans who want a more constructive and unifying approach to our challenges, from the White House on down.” 

If Straus had remained in office and won the speakership, it would have been for a record-breaking sixth term as leader of the chamber. He told supporters Wednesday that he never expected to hold the post. 

He was first elected to his House district in a 2005 special election. In 2009, he was elected speaker with the support of Democrats and a couple dozen Republicans who were frustrated with the ruling tactics of the speaker at the time, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland. The circumstances of Straus’ rise caused many of the state’s staunchest conservatives to distrust him, but he held a firm grip on power for the next eight years. 

In 2015, he faced the first contested vote for House speaker since 1975 when Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, challenged him. Straus prevailed in the 150-member chamber with all but 19 votes. This year, he was re-elected to the speakership unanimously, tying with Pete Laney and Gib Lewis for the longest tenures as speaker. 

During his time with the gavel, Straus mostly governed with a low profile. His public comments were rare, and he received more attention for the bills he blocked than the ones he championed. His legacy, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said, will be the restraint he put on the Tea Party in Texas. 

“He slowed down, if not blocked, a shift to the right within Republican politics,” Jones said. 

Straus and his lieutenants set priorities like setting aside state funding for transportation, planning for the state’s water needs, reforming the state’s child protective services and unsuccessfully pushing to remodel how the state pays for its public schools. Often, he declared that his actions at the helm were taken due to the “will of the House.” 

This year especially, he clashed with conservative elements within the GOP over issues like private school vouchers and measures to roll back property taxes. Those proposals — and the “bathroom bill” — were on Abbott’s agenda for a July special session of the Legislature, a list that Straus compared to “a room full of horse manure.” 

His most public fight in recent years was over that bathroom bill, which was pushed by Patrick. Positioning himself as the guardian of the Texas business community that vehemently opposed the legislation, Straus was ultimately responsible for its demise. 

Citing dire economic and moral costs for Texas, Straus refused to consider bathroom restrictions proposed by Patrick. A stalemate over the issue set him and Patrick on a political collision course that played out in dueling press conferences featuring the two leaders trading blame for the breakdown of the session. 

In a story first reported by The New Yorker, Patrick sent Straus a letter near the end of the session proposing a compromise. Straus refused to open it, telling the senator who delivered it to tell Patrick, “I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.” 

The bathroom bill eventually fizzled out in the House. Straus’ handling of the bill and other hot-button issues prompted talk among conservative Republicans about replacing him. GOP members held a closed-door meeting in August to discuss rules about an impending 2019 speaker vote. 

But in the weeks and months following the bathroom fight, Straus appeared to be on a victory tour over the issue, urging business leaders to keep up the fight. 

“Texans rejected name-calling and scare tactics, and as a result, we avoided a major mistake that would’ve cost our economy greatly and divided us unnecessarily,” Straus said at a recent speech to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “Now is not the time to walk away from the table. Going forward, working together we can do more than just avoiding mistakes.” 

Morgan Smith, Patrick Svitek, Alexa Ura and Cassandra Pollock contributed to this report. 

Disclosure: Rice University has been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

[gdlr_space height=”20px”]
[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: House Speaker Joe Straus announces to the Capitol press that he will not seek re-election in 2018, opening up the speaker’s race to a number of candidates for the 2019 session. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich / The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Matthew Watkins is the breaking news editor for the Tribune. Before becoming an editor, he wrote about higher education and the business of college sports for the Tribune. Previously, he has covered local government at The Dallas Morning News and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. A Texas native, Matthew grew up in Austin and has lived in Houston, Dallas and Bryan. He earned his bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University in 2008.

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Austin

Gay Couple Attacked in Dowtown Austin

Austin Police confirmed that all four suspects in the January 19 attack against Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry are now in custody.

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Attack victims Spencer Deehring (left) and Tristan Perry (right). Attack suspects Frank Macias (center top left), Quinn O'Connor (center top right), Miguel Macias (center bottom left), and Kolby Monell (center bottom right).

A gay couple in Austin were hospitalized after being attacked and beaten unconscious by a group of five men in downtown Austin early Saturday morning. The men say they were targeted because of their sexual orientation telling KXAN that they believe their attackers were set off by seeing the couple holding hands.

Night Out

Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry were out Friday night with a group of friends, celebrating a friend’s birthday, stopping by several downtown bars. The couple told KXAN that they only had a couple drinks early in the night. Since they had drove downtown, they wanted to be sober when the night ended.

The Attack

The men say they left Rain on 4th at approximately 2:20 AM Saturday morning and were walking to their car, hand-in-hand, when a man passed them and directed a homophobic slur at the couple. Deehring responded by saying, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” That was when the man called out to four other people, who had been out of sight, and motioned for them to come over.

The group of attackers began to follow Deehring and Perry, verbally assaulting the couple with expletives as they continued the walk to their car. “The last thing I said to one of the guys before they attacked both of us was like, ‘I don’t have anything more to say to you guys, we’re just going home, leave us alone’,” Deehring told KXAN.

It was then that one of the attackers punched Perry in the face, breaking his nose. As he dropped to his knees, two of the other assailants stepped up and continued to attack Perry, hitting and kicking him until he was unconscious, including a kick to the back of the head by one of the attackers.

“The last blow he took was an extremely long kick to the back of his head, so, at that point, I thought he was dead. I thought that that kick alone had killed him and so, when he was just lying there, my first instinct kicked in to kind of just charge at the guy that kicked him because I wanted to create some kind of diversion,” Deehring told Fox 7.

Deehring immediately tried to tackle the men attacking Perry. “That was my first reaction, was to stop them from kicking him because he couldn’t receive one more blow to the head or he may well have been dead,” he told KXAN. He himself was knocked unconscious by the attackers.

A bystander who witnessed the attack called 911 and waited with the couple until police and EMS arrived, which Deehring estimated took 20 minutes. He noted that had it not been for the bystander, the attack may have continued and their injuries more severe.

Their Injuries

The couple was transported to Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas at Austin where they were treated and hospitalized for their injuries. Both men have since been released.

Last night I was a victim of a brutal hate crime. I was beaten and called a “faggot” as well as numerous other terms…

Posted by Spencer Deehring on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Deehring’s injuries included a concussion, lacerations on his forehead, swelling to his mouth and jaw, and bruising from blows to the back of his head and neck.

The focus of the initial assault, Perry sustained more extensive injuries, including a concussion, lacerations to the back of his head, a broken nose, busted lip, chipped teeth and suffered from swelling in his face, pain in his neck and back and needed stitches over his eye. He also reported some memory loss from the head injuries he sustained. He was readmitted to the hospital Sunday for persistent bleeding, but has since been released.

last night my boyfriend and i went out for a drink with some of his friends, and unfortunately when he and i were…

Posted by Tristan Perry on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Details

The original account to KXAN had the couple leaving Rain on 4th at approximately 2:45 AM and the following attack occuring near 7th and Red River streets. In their interview with FOX 7, the couple said they left Rain on 4th at approximately 2:20 AM and the attack happened near 4th and Guadalupe streets.

According to the Austin Police Department, the incident occured at 3rd Street and Congress Avenue just before 2:30 AM and the bystander’s 911 call was pinged from an address near West 4th Street. Deehring said police told him his misremembering the location of the attack was likely a result of the concussion he sustained from head trauma during the attack. Rain on 4th confirmed the couple exited that bar at 2:18 AM.

A request to the Austin Police Department for a copy of the police report from the night of the attack was denied by the department. “The requested information pertains to ongoing criminal investigation. The detective assigned to this investigation has advised that the release of the requested information would interfere with this ongoing investigation,” said the City of Austin’s Law Department in a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s office asking for a decision from the Attorney General as to whether this information is within an exception to public disclosure. “Accordingly, it is the department’s position that the release of information pertaining to this investigation would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime, and the department seeks to withhold the information represented by the enclosed records under Section 552(a)(1).”

The couple are encouraging others to be cautious when they’re out and to not travel alone, and that they plan to keep going out and being affectionate in public.”Spread love, end all this hatred, end all this closed-mindedness always watch your surroundings, always be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk alone,” Perry told KXAN, with Deehring adding, “Be aware of your surroundings, but don’t change who you are as a person, don’t ever change who you are as a person and don’t be afraid to go out there and explore the world, just as you are. We’re gonna do that too.”

The couple have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help cover medical expenses.

Search for the Attackers

The couple hope the police will find and prosecute the attackers. According to Deehring, police have surveillance video from the night of the attack showing them walking down 3rd Street and Congress Avenue. Police are using the video to track down the assailants involved in the attack.

“They have so many people working on this. Multiple supervisors, multiple people checking cameras,” Deehring told KXAN. “It’s good to hear APD is doing everything they can and are taking it very seriously.”

They are also asking that the bystander who called 911 to come forward to participate in the investigation

Rewards

The owners of Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s are offering a $5,000 reward for any new information which leads to an arrest in connection with the attack.

The Owners of Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s are offering a $5,000 reward for any new information which leads to an arrest in connection with the Hate-Crime attack against Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry on the early morning of Saturday, January 19th in downtown Austin.

For too long gay-bashings have threatened our community. Historically and still to this day establishments like ours have provided sanctuary and security from these incidents. At Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s we strive daily to provide a safe and tolerant environment for our community, and our actions do not stop at our doors. We will not stand by when our customers and community members are brutally assaulted simply for expressing their love.

Rain on 4th has been in contact with Mayor Adler’s office as well as Police Chief Manley and Assistant Chief Newsom. We will continue to coordinate resources and actions to help ensure this crime is fully investigated and prosecuted. We are also working together on community safety measures to ensure we send a strong message that threats in the warehouse district will not be ignored.

Anyone having information concerning the crime please call APD at 512-974-9207 or contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS. You may remain anonymous.

Additionally, the Shefman Law Group’s Cyclistlaw.com and R-Events are each offering an additional $2,500 reward and the Austin Playhouse‘s production of “Paradise” is offering an addition $1,000 reward. The combined reward stands at $11,000.

Anyone having information concerning the crime please call APD at 512-974-9207 or contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS. You may remain anonymous.

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Austin

Austin PRIDE Announces Date for 2019 Festival & Parade

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The Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation, the non-profit organization that manages and organizes Austin’s PRIDE celebration, has announced that the 29th annual Austin PRIDE Festival and Parade will take place on SATURDAY, AUGUST 10, 2019. This year’s theme is Boogie Wonderland.

The 2015 Austin Pride Festival at Fiesta Gardens. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The festival will return to Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach in Town Lake Metropolitan Park (a/k/a Fiesta Gardens) from 11 AM – 6 PM and feature entertainment, games and activities, drinks, food, family zone, and 140+ booths featuring local non-profits organizations and businesses. Tickets on the day of the event will be $20 for adults (18+), $10 for youth (7-17 years old), and FREE for children six and under. Discounted advanced tickets will go on sale in the near future at www.austinpride.org.

The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade
The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The parade will step off at 8 PM. The route through downtown Austin remains unchanged from previous years; starting at the south gate of the Texas State Capitol Building, heading down Congress Avenue, then turning on 4th Street going through the Warehouse District before ending at Republic Square. The parade is free and open to the public.

The parade and festival are projected to bring in over 400,000 attendees, making it the largest single day event based on attendance in Austin. By comparison, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has 75,000 attendees and South by Southwest has 285,000 attendees.

Registration for booths at the festival and spaces in the parade is now open online at www.austinpride.org/paradeandfestival.

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86th TX Lege

Dan Patrick Dismisses Need for Bathroom Bill in 2019: “It’s been settled and I think we won”

In 2017, Patrick pushed for the controversial measure that would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, but it failed to become law.

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott as he speaks during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / Texas Tribune.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

The “bathroom bill” won’t be back this session, its loudest champion suggested Wednesday morning.

At a Governor’s Mansion press conference on the second day of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who last session was the top state leader championing the measure, which would have regulated the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans — suggested there’s no need to bring back the divisive proposal that headlined the last legislative year in 2017, but failed to reach the governor’s desk. 

“When you win the battle, you don’t have to fight the battle again,” Patrick said, sitting beside Gov. Greg Abbott and recently elected Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. “I think it’s been settled, and I think we’ve won.” 

Without citing evidence, Patrick claimed that the school district behavior necessitating the measure has “stopped.” 

“Sometimes a bill doesn’t pass, but you win on the issue,” Patrick said.

The bathroom bill fight kicked off in the wake of an Obama-era policy guideline that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity. One version of Texas’ “bathroom bill” measure would have required that individuals, including transgender men and women, use the facilities with the gender identity on their birth certificates. Other, similar proposals would have prevented local governments and school districts from enacting or enforcing nondiscrimination ordinances allowing transgender individuals to use the facilities that align with their gender identity.

In the months since the 2017 legislative sessions, Patrick has made similar suggestions that the issue no longer requires the Legislature’s attention. But his answer carried extra weight Wednesday as he and the state’s other top two leaders projected a unified front, promising to tackle bread-and-butter policy reforms like school finance, property tax reform and disaster recovery. Any lawmaker can file a bill, but if the measure doesn’t have support from the state’s top leaders, it’s unlikely to make it very far.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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28feb01marDown & Dirty Thursday ft. DJ ProtégéAll-Male Amateur StripOff ft. Bobby Cook & Sabel Scities10:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Rain on 4thCategories:NightlifeAges:18+

28feb01marCountry Nightft. DJ Michael Bond10:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Oilcan Harry'sCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

28feb01marDivas on 4thHosted by Nadine Hughes11:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Sellers UndergroundCategories:Drag,NightlifeAges:21+

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