Beginning of the Session at The Texas House of Representatives
As the 84th Texas Legislature opened, mixed emotions ran through my heart and my mind. I was sitting in the Texas House of Representatives' gallery looking down to a full floor of elected state representatives and their families.
This was the fifth time I have been present at a swearing in ceremony for the Texas Legislature session, having been to both the House and Senate ceremonies. I started attending the sessions at the 80th Texas Legislature, back in 2007, but this time was different- as I was there as a former candidate for the Texas State House for this specific term. Try to imagine my feelings as I was there watching and thinking that I could have been on that floor about to take an oath surrounded with my own family and making history as the second Hispanic woman in ALL history of Texas sitting as a Republican. (The first and only Republican woman was Rep. Elvira Reyna who served District 101 from 1993-2007.) I realized that I recognized almost every face of the state representatives on the floor from both parties. Most of my good friends are in the Republican party, and some others are in the Democratic party whom I have gotten to know, mostly because I have debated them frequently since 2007 in TV, radio, public forums etc., informing the very large Hispanic population of Texas.
Tuesday, January 13th I arrived at 7:30 am to the Texas Capitol and as soon as I arrived at the Gallery floor, about 40 people were already waiting there. They were mainly activists supporting one or the other candidate for Speaker of the House. Some of them were louder than the others, some of them harsh against others who would not take their same position. Frankly, I just observed as I am tired of the lack of unity in my own party.
After three hours of standing and waiting, we were given our personal passes to the gallery. The gallery doors were opened at 10:30 am, where we waited another hour and a half to begin. This is regular in the Texas Capitol: I have done this, standing for long hours in line several times, during several sessions for long hours.
Secretary of State, Nandita Berry opened the ceremony. She is a woman whom I identify myself with in many ways because of our common faith, our values and because both of us came to the USA as immigrant women. Berry welcomed the members, family and guests, she described a little of her background, saying her husband was born in Texas, she was born in India, and their children in Africa. "This is Texas," she emphasized.
The invocation was given and a couple of members of the House gave the pledges to allegiance to the American flag and the Texas flag.
SOS Nandita Berry began a beautiful, well-prepared speech mentioning the new Legislature will "represent a glorious group of Texans from the far-flung reaches of our state." She mentioned almost every single member of the State House and several businesses. The speech was well-written and well-delivered, although there were some complaints in the audience about Sec. Berry's abundance of remarks. A page from the Senate chamber came in to advise that the Senate had already finished their swearing in while the Sec. of State kindly wrapped up to continue the House session.
Finally, House members were sworn into office. Families of the members then were told they could leave the floor if they desired to do so. Then they got down to the legislative business of the first day that most people in the gallery were there for: the election of the Speaker of the House among the 146 state representatives present.
State Rep. Scott Turner of Collin County was nominated by State Rep. Jeff Leach of Collin County. He started quoting Scripture from St. Matthew "to give honor to whom honor is due when honor is due" and expressed his gratitude to Speaker Straus and his wife. Then he proceeded to quote Martin Luther King: "There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right." He mentioned that it was the first time in 40 years that there was a contested race for Speaker. He explained what Texans are expecting the legislators to do when we entrusted them with our votes.
Rep. Leach shared a little of Turner's biography: his former life as a football player, his experience as a businessman, his family life, ministry, and politics. “I am proud to nominate my friend Scott Turner. I believe strongly that under his leadership there will be a new fire in the legislature. I ask you, do not focus on Scott Turner the professional, but on Scott Turner the man, the humble servant leader. Turner is a servant of servants and a leader of leaders... the voices of the people will be heard," Rep. Leach said.
State Representative Joe Straus of Bexar County was nominated by State Rep. Four Price of Potter County. Rep. Four Price spoke about Speaker Straus, saying a decision must be made based on leadership. He stressed that leadership is shown in action and results. He explained numerous examples where Speaker Straus had brought results. Straus balanced the budget without raising taxes on Texans. After agriculture was affected by drought, Joe Straus brought an appropriate response with HB 4 and then Prop 6. He passed HB 5, making education relevant to all students. Price also discussed tax relief for small business, standing for veterans issues, protecting the most vulnerable, and passing bills to make Texas better and stronger. Rep. Price explained the ability Straus has to engage with others and his track record of achieving results and positive outcome. He ended his speech speaking about the experience of Speaker Straus and his involvement in the Republican Party.
State Rep. Bryan Hughes of Wood County gave the first seconding speech for Rep. Scott Turner and explained the changes that the House has had during the last terms and how people have asked for new leadership. He said, "The people are asking for a new direction."
State Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria County gave the first seconding speech for Speaker Joe Straus as the only female State Representative who stood to nominate a candidate. She said that Speaker Straus "has integrity, faith, compassion and principle. It is never easy to get 149 members to work together in every spectrum and Joe Straus has accomplished that." She also said that all of the representatives represent their own districts, and Joe Straus understands that and that they have to have a member who respects that every member has a different district than ours.
State Rep. Matt Krause of Tarrant County delivered the third seconding speech nominating Rep. Scott Turner and started refuting the reasons that people give to say Rep. Scott Turner would not be a good speaker by explaining commonalities between Turner and Abraham Lincoln. He stressed that Rep. Turner is a qualified leader and explained that Scott has the ability to communicate the vision that inspires people. He said that there is not one single person who is an expert in everything. "He is qualified to be a speaker and he will do a fantastic job." He also mentioned Scott is a team player and a team leader. He closed by saying, "Support me in voting for Scott Turner for Speaker. You won't regret it; I guarantee it."
State Rep. Rene Oliveira of Cameron County, the only Democrat who spoke to nominate, gave the third seconding speech supporting Joe Straus, explaining he has worked under five different speakers. He urged members to vote for their district saying that Straus wants every member to participate in a fair process. "Straus lets every member participate. I am not always in agreement with Joe, but he honors the right of others to disagree." He spoke about the fact that Straus can work together with people from the opposite party. He also said that the people of Texas do not want members of the legislation to be divisive like in Washington, DC but to work together when they deliberate.
State Representative Scott Sanford of Colin County gave the third seconding speech for Rep. Scott Turner stressing that "Scott is a people's person and ... he is not only a motivational speaker, he is a motivation." He reminded everyone of one of his favorite phrases, "I got you." He explained that when he says this it means Scott Turner "holds your back. He has a pro- active and inclusive leadership."
After Rep. Sanford spoke, the SOS Nandita Berry reminded people in the gallery of the House rules and that outburst and demonstrations were not allowed.
Rep. Ken Sheets of Dallas County gave the final seconding speech supporting Speaker Joe Straus. He said Straus has proven to be an effective and unifying leader. "Leadership is never easy. It requires doing the right things at the right time and for the right reasons. It did not take too long after he was elected to learn this lesson, and he said all 150 leaders will be pursuing the best interest of their individual district. There will be days when they will disagree, but at the end of the day, they need to look for the best interests of the people of Texas. We need a speaker who will serve as a uniting force, and this is why I support Speaker Straus."
I have the privilege of personally knowing each one of the representatives giving a nominating speech for their candidate, and I respect each of them deeply.
Votes for speaker of the house of representatives of the 84th Legislature were conducted by using voting machines. 146 members were present. There were 19 votes in favor of Scott Turner and 127 votes in favor of Speaker Straus. Rep. Scott Turner was represented by the green Light and Rep. Joe Straus by the red light. The white light was to represent present. With this result, Speaker Straus was declared as the Speaker of the 84th Texas Legislature.
At that moment many people decided to leave the gallery.
Sec. Berry welcomed to the podium Governor-elect Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick. Both, alongside with Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, swore in the new elected speaker Joe Straus.
Speaker Straus expressed his gratitute to the representatives for their service: he thanked the members of the Texas House, "Serving with you is a tremendous privilege. I value your trust and your confidence. You cannot effectively govern this house by dividing it. What happens on this floor is not about any single member, myself included, ... this is about a fair process that points us to common ground... a process which respects the will of every district and the judgment of every member. This house belongs to no special interest, no single interest but the interest of almost 27 million Texans. All of the people we represent and their score card is the only one that matters" (This last phrase got a long standing ovation).
Speaker Straus mentioned what happened with the water legislation last session can guide them as to the steps to take for legislation to tackle challenges on transportation in rural and urban areas. "It is time in this session to finally end highway diversions."
Speaker Straus also added that it is important to practice fiscal discipline and sensible and meaningful tax relief. "This house will stand for greater transparency and accountability. Using tax resources for personal gain will not be tolerated in this House."
After Speaker Straus' speech, as a matter of personal privilege, Rep Turner had his prepared speech and gave it to the floor.
I believe all the speeches were good ones and each was done from the heart. I am aware people disagree in politics and this is part of what we need to understand. We saw a challenge and people got encouraged with the challenge. At the same time, I believe that now that the first day is over, representatives have to unite and begin to work together to pass good legislation in the great state of Texas.