Texas Legislature's "Archconservative Speaker" Ousted, Times Relieved

Thank goodness: In the Texas legislature, the "archconservative speaker" has been ousted in favor of a Republican "who has not toed the conservative line on issues like abortion and gay rights."

Democrats are making inroads in the statehouse in Texas! Well, not exactly - even after the 2008 Democratic landslide, the GOP still holds a majority in the state house and holds all the top offices in the state. Still, James McKinley Jr. noticed a slight shift to the left in the Republican caucus and treated it like an earthquake in his "Statehouse Journal" from Austin Wednesday, "Texas Rebellion Gives a Centrist a Lift." The piece was littered with ideological labels, like "archconservative," constructed to be unflattering to Republicans.

On first blush, it is easy to think the Democratic tide that swept President Obama into office barely touched Texas. After all, Republicans still run the state and hold all the top offices and, if Texas voters had had their way, John McCain would be in the Oval Office.

But a recent coup by moderate Republicans against the speaker of the state's House of Representatives suggests otherwise.

When the Republicans nearly lost their majority in the Texas House in November, a small group of moderates from the party joined with Democrats to oust the archconservative speaker, Thomas Craddick of Midland.

Even more surprising, the Republican rebels engineered the election of Joe Straus, a decidedly centrist politician from San Antonio, to the speaker's office, making a junior lawmaker with not quite two terms under his belt one of the most powerful people in the state.

The rise of Mr. Straus, a fiscal conservative who has not toed the conservative line on issues like abortion and gay rights, was widely seen as a defeat for the socially conservative wing of the party.


Still, some conservatives who were in Mr. Craddick's camp say Mr. Straus's victory may not reflect a sea change in Texas politics. He faces a tough job, some say. His Democratic supporters will still look to win back the majority in the next election and depose him. Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, will be looking for any sign of weakness in his coalition to wrest the speakership back. Some in the right wing of the party regard his ascendance as a fluke.