Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Your moment of Zen: The Daily Show lampoons the Texas House

House Speaker Joe Straus strikes the gavel on the first day of the new session.
House Speaker Joe Straus strikes the gavel on the first day of the new session.

Weeks after swooping into the Texas Capitol, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show aired a segment Feb. 3 skewering Texas conservatives who had urged legislators to elect a Christian speaker of the Texas House.

In a clip of the news spoof, John Oliver, the Daily Show correspondent who said he "made a pilgrimage to Tejas," cites a November letter by John Cook, a State Republican Executive Committee official, stating that "we elected a House with Christian conservative values. Now we want a true Christian conservative running it." House Speaker Joe Straus, who was re-elected in January, is Jewish.

"Republicans in Texas are a pretty common sight but Jewish Republicans like Joe Straus are about as rare as a pork rib on a prairie mule," Oliver said. "Could it possibly be that another Jew would be driven out of yet another desert land?"

Lo, that didn’t come to pass. At the Jan. 11 start of the legislative session, House members elected Straus to a second two-year turn as speaker.

But conservative Republicans had hoped to stop Straus, who they depicted as a social moderate aligned with Democrats. In June, for instance, Aledo activist David Barton distributed a multi-pronged letter to delegates at the state Republican Convention. Among four claims we checked from the letter was the charge that state Reps. Dan Branch and Jim Pitts, described as Straus’ lieutenants, were "helping Democrat Ellen Cohen against her Republican challenger, doing events with her in her district." We rated that Half True: The two members appeared at two forums with Cohen at her invitation, but they weren’t political rallies.

Other sallies followed.

In November, education activist Donna Garner said Straus "was co-author of a bill that would have allowed Planned Parenthood to control public school sex education."  The statement was quoted in a November newsletter from the conservative Texas Eagle Forum, which blasted Straus as a "Republican in name only."

We rated Garner’s claim Pants on Fire. Straus co-authored a measure intended to promote family planning and to ensure that school districts that teach sex education spell out the effectiveness of contraceptives when used properly and not. Planned Parenthood supported the proposal and worked on the proposal with Strama's office. Even if it had passed, though, it would not have changed the pro-abstinence focus on sex education in the schools.

In a December press release, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, urged the GOP caucus to select a speaker candidate during its scheduled closed-door Jan. 10 meeting. A Straus consultant nudged us, saying that Chisum, who was mounting an unsuccessful speaker candidacy, was contradicting what he’d said about choosing a House speaker in 2002. Indeed, we found, Chisum had earlier warned against caucuses choosing the speaker, saying the job should be filled by an open bipartisan House vote. We rolled out the Flip-O-Meter to give Chisum credit for a Full Flop.

Much ado was made about abortion issues in the months leading up to the speaker election. In January, the Heidi Group distributed a letter noting that Straus "was acknowledged and thanked for his tireless efforts by Planned Parenthood, the nation’s premier abortion provider" after the 2009 session. Though Straus wasn’t present when the thanks were aired, we rated that True.