Speaker Candidates Joe Straus and Ken Paxton on the Issues
Organizers from the San Antonio Tea Party, the Hill Country Tea Party, the Fredericksburg Tea Party, the Boerne Tea Party, the Kerr County 9-12 Project and the Austin Tea Party Patriots met with Speaker Joe Straus in San Antonio on Monday, January 3, to discuss issues regarding the race for Texas Speaker. Jon Kaplan, San Antonio Tea Party, arranged the meeting through Congressman Lamar Smith (District 21).
On Tuesday, January 4, some of those organizers met by phone conference with Rep. Ken Paxton to ask the same questions.
The Texas tea parties named above express their appreciation to each of U. S. Rep. Smith, Speaker Straus, and State Rep. Paxton for their willingness to participate in this process. They were extremely gracious with their time.
The following is a summary of each candidate’s answers to the questions of the group. Since the conversations were not recorded, the answers are paraphrasings or summaries. Mr. Paxton made a few references regarding Mr. Straus’ record or position; we have not fact-checked those.
Question: Given that Texas will receive four new Congressional seats as a result of the 2010 census, what will be your primary objective in the re-districting process?
Straus: I want to ensure that Texas will receive fair and legal re-districting that reflects the voters of Texas. A key will be compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Until the map data is released in February, I can’t predict what the districts will look like.
Paxton: I want to get as many Republican seats as possible – at least three. I do not want an even split. Of course, we will need to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The actual map results will depend on the census.
Question: Given the new supermajority in the 82nd Texas legislative session, how will this impact your appointments to committee chairmanships? How can you assure the people of Texas that the key committees in the Texas legislature are chaired by conservatives?
Straus: Obviously, the law prevents me from naming who the committee chairs will be. But with at least 101 Republicans in the state House, there will be no doubt that that the committee chair appointments will reflect the will of the voters. And we will clearly have more conservative committee chairs than in the prior session. Even in the last session, when the effective number of both Republicans and Democrats in the state House was 74-74 (due to the lack of a vote by the Speaker and the illness of Rep. Keumpel), the number of Republicans in key committee chair posts exceed those held by Democrats. Remember, half of the non-chair committee assignments are made automatically by House seniority, not by the Speaker’s discretion.
Paxton: I believe that Joe has already picked his chairpersons. [Editor’s note: Mr. Paxton did not allege that Mr. Straus had promised anyone a chair position – he merely said he thought Mr. Straus had already made his choices.] He is tied in to most of his chairs. I can assure you that we will have conservative leaders, especially in the important committees. I don’t know specifics. It won’t be as many as Democrats as Joe has, although it is my understanding that Texas tradition provides for chairpersons from both parties. The chairman of each committee has great power, even if the committee itself is packed with members from a different party.
Question: Balancing the budget will be a top constitutional priority for this session. Is there any chance at all that you will favor (i) new sources of revenue or (ii) using the Rainy Day Fund?
Straus: I have been very clear in saying that I oppose any new taxes and oppose use of the Rainy Day Fund. I have directed the budget board to assume that we have only available funds to support the new balanced budget. It is possible that – like 2003 – we may need to increase certain user-based fees, but they will not be disguised taxes. As for gambling revenue, I must of course recuse myself from any consideration of such a proposal. But let me say that I do not expect to have any new gambling allowed in Texas this session. Because of my position, I think that gambling has a tougher road ahead of it than if I were not serving as Speaker. In education, we might need to allow increased class size in Texas schools.
I sponsored legislation a few years ago that eliminated one of the biggest taxes in Texas – a telecommunications tax – even when some other conservative legislators fought against it. I have long been a supporter of lower taxes.
Paxton: I do not favor any new taxes and prefer not to use any of the Rainy Day Fund. The key is to reduce spending. During the last session, we fought Joe Straus off from using the Rainy Day Fund. The Texas Conservative Coalition, of which I am a member, has a plan to cut $18 billion from the state budget. That’s where we need to start. I am not a huge fan of gambling in Texas. I believe that we would end up with additional costs but not that much additional revenue. Other states that have passed gambling laws are not benefiting from it.
Question: Would you support 10th Amendment legislation to push back the federal government overstepping its bounds? In particular, would you support (i) the Texas Health Freedom Act (against Obamacare), (ii) the Texas legislature calling for the Repeal Amendment (i.e., allowing a vote of 2/3 of the states to repeal any federal law) and (iii) a Texas law that declares any federal law null and void in Texas if it exceeds the powers enumerated for the federal government in the US Constitution?
Straus: I am in favor of two out of the three. [Editor’s note: The group quickly turned the conversation to immigration reform – see below. I am sure that Mr. Straus meant he was in favor of the first two 10th Amendment actions listed. No one in the room – including the questioner – was in favor of the third since it would be terrifically vague; it was just used as an example of what a 10th Amendment law might look like.]
Paxton: Of course I am in favor of the Texas Health Freedom Act – it’s my bill. I also support the Repeal Amendment. But I would suggest that we also explore the idea of Interstate Compacts to defeat federal laws like the national healthcare law. The compacts will take some time to develop – since they would need to involve many states – but they could be very successful. Limiting federal power is a way to strike back at the federal government and to get them out of our business. The federal government is going to bankrupt us. [Editor’s notes: Interstate compacts may have the advantage of supplanting federal law without the requirement of a Presidential signature. Mr. Paxton did not comment on the third alternative.]
Question: Are you in favor of an Arizona-style immigration law?
Straus: First, let me point out that I have supported, through an amicus brief, Arizona’s right to govern itself as it sees fit in this area. I do not think that the Arizona law is the best choice for Texas. First, it could impose unwarranted burdens on our law enforcement personnel – those burdens should instead be borne by the federal government, which should be in charge of immigration issues. Second, we need to do what’s needed to attract significant companies to bring their workforces here. I do not want Texas to start pulling people over based on the color of their skin. We don’t need to scare them away with laws that make it unattractive to move here because of the presumptions – wrong assumptions, but assumptions nonetheless – that the law is discriminatory. I am clearly against Texas companies hiring illegal immigrants. The companies that we are looking to attract will not hire them, either. I am in favor of immigrations laws that make sense in Texas. I just don’t think that a law just like the Arizona law is the answer.
Paxton: I think we can do better than the Arizona law. Their law puts the burden on state law enforcement to do the federal government’s job though a state law. We are, instead, working on a 287(g) program that will fund more agents – local police officers who will be able to do what ICE does. It makes sure we are able to remove illegal aliens from Texas. If we can fund this 287(g) program, we can detain and remove illegal aliens. We will be authorized to do it. We plan to find a way to not get into the legal issues faced by Arizona. Sanctuary cities should not be allowed.
Question: Are you in favor of a law that requires Texas agencies to publish the amount of state funds used by those agencies to deal with or serve illegal immigrants?
Straus: Yes, I don’t see why not. I am very much in favor of transparency in our government.
Paxton: Absolutely, I think that would be great.
Straus: My style is to give authority to other House members and let the system work. We have an unprecedented opportunity to have a much more conservative House. I will respect the will of the voters during the session. I firmly believe in the system our forefathers set up for us.
If you have concerns you need to tell your Representative. Let them know what you expect them to do for you. If they do not respond, my door would be open to you.
I don’t know why there is such emphasis being put on the election of the Speaker of the House. We have 101 Republicans to 49 Democrats. Your concern should be the Senate, where there is a much closer margin.
Paxton: We need a strong leader in the Speaker’s office. I did not expect to get into this race, but I see a need for conservative leadership. It’s not good enough to pick committee chairs and then hope that the job gets done.