Texas Speaker's Race Heats Up: John Bolton Endorses Challenger

It's hard to top John Bolton for no-nonsense conservatism.  Rumors have him seriously considering a run for the presidency in 2012, and it may be with that run in mind that he has chosen to weigh in on the race for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.  On the first work day of the new year, a press release featuring Ambassador Bolton ricocheted around the Lone Star State:

“I am happy to announce my support for Ken Paxton as the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. This is a significant office for all Texans, and especially this year it also has important national implications.

“First, upcoming reapportionment and redistricting decisions in many States will play a critical role in ensuring that our fellow citizens obtain the representation they are entitled to. Across the country, we need to rectify literally decades of skewed redistricting decisions, and Texas, which will gain four seats in the House of Representatives in Washington, will play the leading role in that process. Accordingly, how Texas Republicans approach redistricting will have significant national ramifications.

“Second, as Texans know only too well, our citizens are increasingly endangered by drug-related violence spilling across from Mexico. Border-state law-enforcement authorities can do only so much, especially when Mexican authorities are unable to police their side of the border, and the Obama Administration has chosen to sit on the sidelines, hardly even mentioning the dangers of the Mexican drug cartels, let alone acting effectively to protect our citizens. If action is not taken soon, citizens all across our nation will face the same dangers already threatening Texans. Once again, how Texas responds will be a signal for the entire country.

“I believe that Ken Paxton has what it takes to be an effective Speaker of the Texas House on these and many other issues. He will provide leadership for Texas and the nation as a whole, and I am pleased to support him.”

Bolton's endorsement follows what has been a cascade among the Texas House conservatives, newly elected and veterans, announcing support for state Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, who is challenging the current speaker, state Rep. Joe Straus, for the gavel.  Younger members such as Iraq war veteran Van Taylor have sided with Paxton, as have members of the class of 2010, including James White, Jim Landtroop, Charles Perry and Erwin Cain.  Cain's decision to go public follows a medium-sized problem that has dogged Speaker Straus since shortly after the November elections, when stories surfaced that there was a threat directed at several members, and Cain in particular, with being redistricted out of their seats if they supported anyone else for speaker.

In a Nov. 10 press release, [state Rep. Bryan] Hughes said a then-unnamed person "brought up the subject of redistricting and explained to me how that process would be used to punish those members not on Speaker Straus's list of supporters."

Phillips denied that he made any threats to Hughes, but that they did discuss the political realities of redistricting as friendly colleagues.

Hughes, taking an oath by request, said Phillips brought up Reps. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa, a candidate for Speaker), Dan Flynn (R-Van), and Reps.-elect Erwin Cain (R-Sulphur Springs) and Jim Landtroop (R-Plainview) as potential subjects of redistricting should they oppose Straus. Drafts of maps were already being drawn to that effect, Hughes added.

Who ends up wielding the gavel this year is key for many reasons, not least among them the one that has already come up twice in this post: The redrawing of Texas' electoral map.  The state will get four new seats in the US House or Representatives, and lines down to the precinct level will also be redrawn.  The House speaker plays a key role in that process, and thus the speaker in this year's session will be unusually powerful and influential well beyond the 140 day legislative session.