May 5, 2020

RSLC Beefs Up Establishment Credentials
with Addition of Straus and Rove to Board

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The selection of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and veteran strategist Karl Rove for seats on the Republican State Leadership Committee board is a sign that GOP is more worried than ever about a down-ballot backlash in November when Democrats have a chance to flip the lower chambers of legislatures in a half-dozen swing states.

Straus - a product of a wealthy family in San Antonio - had been despised by the hard right during a 10-year stint at the helm of the House before stepping down early last year without a re-election campaign in 2018. Conservative activists sought to fuel speculations in recent years about a potential Straus campaign for governor as a Democrat.

Rove has been associated with the party's establishment wing as well - having been the chief political adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor and president. A consultant for Bush's father when he was president and vice-president, Rove's ties to the state's most famous political dynasty are all the more pertinent in light of a war of words that erupted last weekend between President Donald Trump and the second of the two Bush presidents. Trump blasted Bush after the Texan posted a video on Twitter that called for Americans to put partisanship aside for the sake of unity in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

With redistricting on the horizon at statehouses across the country in 2021, the RSLC also appeared to be shoring up its stock with voters in the middle of the spectrum with the addition of former Virginia congressional member Barbara Comstock and ex-Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to the governing board as well.

Comstock was ranked as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress during two terms that ended when she was unseated by a Democrat in 2018. Priebus chaired the state GOP in Wisconsin before serving six years as the RNC chief. Priebus had been a major Trump critic before signing on as his first chief of staff at the White House in early 2017. But Priebus was forced out six months later amid a dispute over leaks that some Trump aides attributed to him.

With Trump's approval ratings plummeting as a result of the way he's performed during the coronavirus crisis, the Democrats' odds appear to be on the rise in quests to seize majorities in state houses in Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia.

While the GOP appears poised to retain of state senates in those particular states, a loss in the amount of control that it has in lower chambers could have a decided effect on politics in America throughout the next decade. Democrats would seize control of the Arizona House with a net gain of two seats this fall. The Democrats would take over in the Michigan House if they pick up four seats in the general election when the Republicans would lose majorities in the state houses in North Carolina and Iowa with net gains of six and four seats respectively.

The Democrats would take control of the Pennsylvania state House with a nine-seat net gain - the same number of seats that they'd have to flip this fall to take the majority back in the Texas House where the GOP currently has an 83-67 edge. A Democratic state house majority is less likely but not completely out of reach in Georgia where the GOP would be relegated to the majority with a net loss of 16 seats in the general election.

Georgia Republicans are starting to fear the worst, however, with the approval ratings that GOP Governor Brian Kemp and Trump are receiving for their handling of the pandemic in a free fall. Republicans had been on the defensive in three battles for governor that Democrats won in 2018.

The Republicans currently control 29 state houses while Democrats are in charge in 19. But the number of GOP majorities has gone down by one in each of the three elections that have been held since Trump's election as president in 2016.

The GOP had come out slightly ahead during the three elections that were held while Rove was Bush's senior advisor at the White House before the Texan's presidency ended in 2009. That was the same year that Straus won the speaker's job in Austin on the strength of a coalition that included all of 74 Democrats and more than a dozen relatively moderate Republicans in a chamber where there were 76.

Straus was hammered constantly by hardline conservatives amid the assertion that he'd catered to Democrats to whom he owed his initial election to the leadership post. But the Republicans had 95 Texas House seats when Straus decided to forego another re-election race in his hometown district before the 2018 election when the Democrats picked up a dozen seats in the Capitol's west wing with a boost from a blue wave that Trump had fueled.


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