When Progressive States Network (PSN) discussed gains in progressive power in legislative chambers around the country back in November , one of the question marks was what would happen in the Texas House. Earlier this week, that question was largely resolved when it was announced  that rightwing Speaker Tom Craddick no longer had the votes to be reelected. Instead, a majority coalition, including most House Democrats and a growing number of Republicans, decided to support Republican Joe Straus from San Antonio as the new speaker.
This kind of bi-partisan coalition is the norm in Texas tradition -- a number of Democrats had supported Craddick -- but the change promises a very different atmosphere for the Texas House. The new speaker has detailed a vision of restoring greater procedural fairness to the chamber, including allowing open debate with floor amendments which Craddick had severely restricted. Straus would also be the first Texas speaker coming from an urban district  in modern Texas history. This change was highlighted by his promises to tackle issues like health care, transportation and education which were sometimes ignored by his predecessors.
Rep. Garnet Coleman is a Democratic leader, Chair of the Texas Legislative Study Group and co-chair of Progressive States Network, and gave this description of the change in an interview with PSN:
What was wrong with the Craddick regime was that it was run like Congress under Tom Delay. Craddick eliminated the ability to make amendments on the floor. He blocked all progressive policy. You name it, he blocked it.
In supporting Joe Straus as the new speaker, our objective was never based on policy. Our objective was based on fairness and the belief that when the deck is not stacked against anyone, the policy we believe is important will be able to pass. This is a chance to have merit win out on the floor of the House.
The presumptive speaker laid out his vision that everyone will have an opportunity to lay out the best policy and get a vote on their policy. Statehouses are effected by debate and bills will get debated and views may be changed. The fair process will have an impact on public education. It will impact energy efficiency and alternative energy. It has an impact on health issues.
We believe that this bi-partisan change means a better world where change comes from win-win. Unfortunately, everything has devolved into win-lose, but in the Texas House we'll now have a chance for a new era.
So mark the Texas House as one more chamber where progressives ended up making big gains this last election.