|AUSTIN – Texas legislators unanimously elected Rep. Joe Straus III speaker of the state House Tuesday, making Straus the first San Antonio leader of the 150-member chamber in nearly 100 years.|
Straus, a Republican, is starting his second full session in the state House. Straus emerged as the consensus choice 11 days ago of 11 maverick Republicans who decided that a fresh face would be their best bet to oust veteran Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican who wanted a fourth term as House speaker. Craddick has been in the Legislature for 40 years.
Many members have grown weary of a bitterly divided House in recent years. Republicans now control the chamber with a slim 76-74 margine.
"Let's promise ourselves - let there be no walls in this House," Straus told his colleagues, according to an advance copy of his acceptance speech.
"Let us come together as colleagues and servants to do what is right for Texas. Collaboration is the key to success in this session," he said. "Together, we will build a House where members have an opportunity to express their views and a chance to do something great for their districts and for Texas."
Straus also thanked Craddick for his long service.
In an awkward moment one hour before the 81st Texas Legislature convened,
Straus, on a cell phone, brushed up against Craddick on the House floor. Craddick looked the other way as Straus continued his conversation.
Straus is the only the second urban House speaker in 70 years and the first since Gib Lewis of Fort Worth won the powerful office in 1983. Only one other San Antonio member has been elected House speaker: Chester Terrell in 1913.
The speakership is one of the most powerful positions in state politics, with considerable influence over everything from taxes to the quality of children's education to health care for the needy. The speaker determines priorities for Texans, assigns lawmakers to legislative committees and has a powerful hand in deciding whether bills pass or die.
San Antonians played a prominant role in the opening day of the state House. Secretary of State Hope Andrade, of San Antonio, presided over the chamber before Straus' election as speaker. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, also a San Antonian, administered the oath of office for Straus.
Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, nominated Straus for the speaker's job.
And Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, led a Senate delegation, which walked across the second floor of the Capitol to inform the House that the Senate had officially gathered to open the 140-day legislative session.