Texas Legislature convenes amid budget shortfall

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on January 11, 2011 at 2:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 11 at 9:43 PM

The Texas Legislature opened Tuesday with the state facing a huge budget gap of $15 billion to $27 billion, and very hard decisions ahead over the next five months on what services to cut to close it.

But the politics of picking a speaker to lead the Texas House was the first order of business.

The Texas House opened with its usual pomp. But the harsh politics lingered from the challenge to replace Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio, who, in the end, won with 132 votes out of the 150-member House.

"Division, threats of retribution, attacks on peoples' religious beliefs, distortions of peoples' records have no place in this House," Straus declared after his reelection was confirmed.

Straus' victory is a frustrating loss to various tea party groups. They claimed that Straus — who is Jewish and a lifelong Republican — wasn't conservative enough.

Some Straus critics said they wanted a Christian to lead the House, and threatened House members for Straus they would face challengers in the next primary election.

Along with other right wing special interest groups, the tea party contingent pressured House members to support Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney as speaker.

But citing his fairness in running the House, the vast majority of Republican and Democratic members backed Straus.

Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) is one of Straus' top supporters. "He felt like he had his pledges, and he felt like the members would stick to their word — and they did," Branch said.

Paxton vowed to stay in the race to the end, but folded before the vote.

"We're going to move forward with a conservative agenda, and I hope to be a part of it," he said.

Straus said it's now time to turn to balancing the budget by making cuts and without adding taxes.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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