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In A Blow To Moderate Wing Of GOP, Powerful Texas Republican To Retire

Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, calls the House of Representatives to order in Austin, Texas in July 2017.
Eric Gay
Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, calls the House of Representatives to order in Austin, Texas in July 2017.

A version of this story was first posted by member station KUT.

One of the most powerful Republicans in Texas, state House Speaker Joe Straus, says he will not run for re-election in 2018.

The decision is a blow to the moderate wing of an increasingly conservative Republican Party in the second most-populous state in the nation. Republicans hold every statewide elected office in Texas and control both chambers of the legislature.

Straus' retirement announcement comes a day after two Republican U.S. senators blasted President Trump as a divisive leader who was leading the GOP far astray.

In a statement, Straus said he will "continue to work for a Republican Party that tries to bring Texans together instead of pulling us apart" and that he plans to "be a voice for Texans who want a more constructive and unifying approach to our challenges, from the White House on down."

This year, Straus was a thorn in the side of conservative Republicans and refused to give hearings to controversial measures, like the so-called bathroom bill that would restrict access to public bathrooms for transgender people. That resistance rankled his fellow Republicans – namely, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who championed the bill in the Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Straus said he didn't regret his opposition to the bathroom bill, which was also opposed by the business community.

"Some of the other ideas that I didn't think were the best – you know, if I played a role in keeping them from happening – some people appreciate that," he said.

Straus has argued the bill would jeopardize Texas' ability to attract business, citing similar legislative efforts in North Carolina. In an interview with member station KUT in August, he admitted that he used his authority to hamstring the bill and likened the effort of passing a bathroom bill to walking "head first into a cactus."

Straus didn't offer specific details about his plans after his speakership ends, but said he "highly" doubts he'll appear on a ballot in 2018. He said he wouldn't rule out a run for governor in the future, though.

As for 2018, Straus said he plans on supporting "responsible Republicans" running for office.

"I think there is a hunger for a Republican voice out there that stresses issues that maybe haven't gotten enough attention around the Capitol the last few years," he said.

Straus, who's from San Antonio, was first elected speaker of the Texas House in 2009.

While Straus characterized his leadership style as bipartisan, fellow House Republicans accused him of "blocking a conservative agenda," so much so that one lawmaker filed a challenge to Straus for the speakership.

In a statement, Abbott thanked Straus for his five-term tenure as speaker.

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

Echoing Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick thanked Straus for his service, adding that their differences were often misrepresented.

"Any man who enters the arena deserves respect," Patrick said. "The media often tried to portray our differences as personal when they were actually just a markedly different approach to governance and political ideology."

Straus said Wednesday that he'll miss serving in the Texas Legislature but that being Speaker could be "inhibiting."

"I'll be free to speak my mind more as we go forward," he said. "And that appeals to me quite a bit."

Copyright 2017 KUT 90.5

Andrew Weber is a freelance reporter and associate editor for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.