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Texas Bathroom Battle Divides GOP as House Speaker Gets Targeted

07-17-2017
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The Lone Star State is poised for another tough fight over gender and bathroom policy. Lawmakers will debate the issue in a special 30-day legislative session that starts Tuesday.

Influencing the debate, no doubt, will be the prospect of Republican primaries in March. Texas conservatives are vowing to go hard after any moderate Republicans who don't support the legislation that would require all Texans to use public bathrooms that correspond with their birth-certificate gender.

In March, the Texas Senate passed such a bill, but the more moderate House led by bathroom bill opponent Republican speaker Joe Straus approved a weakened version. The state's House passed a bill that applied only to public schools and the Senate in turn rejected it.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is the state's chief bathroom bill proponent and Gov. Greg Abbott has put the issue on a list of 20 items that he'd like to see the legislature pass this session.

Speaker Straus has compared the bathroom bill and Abbott's other priorities to a mountain of horse manure, but he faces political pressures that could make him vulnerable.

The Texas House has unanimously selected Straus as speaker for five terms but the Conservative Republicans of Texas political action committee is now targeting Straus and those who ally with him.

"To the extent that someone chooses to lock arms with Joe Straus and promote his liberal agenda for the state and work with him to kill conservative legislation, we're going to be looking for and back a primary challenger to that individual," said Jared Woodfill, the committee's president.

Woodfill's PAC donated nearly $2 million between 2010 and 2016 to more than 100 Texas legislative candidates.

The group spent $100,000 during the spring legislative session to buy ads in Straus's home district of San Antonio and in Austin, decrying the speaker and promoting the bathroom bill.

The Republican Party's executive committee in Straus' home county appears to be backing away from the speaker. It recently endorsed a non-binding resolution calling for his removal from the top post.

LGBT activists and powerful business groups like Apple and the NFL oppose the bathroom bill, calling it discriminatory.

North Carolina recently rolled back much of its controversial bathroom law known as "HB2."

 

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