In Texas, a leadership battle is brewing over the election of the next state Speaker of the House. State Rep. Joe Straus (R-TX) appears to have the votes to win, but a coalition of Tea Party and right-wing Republican groups — including the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Austin Tea Party Patriots, the Texas Pastor Council, and Texas Eagle Forum — are staging an effort to elect a more radical right Speaker. This morning, the Dallas Morning News reported that several of the Tea Party activists in the aforementioned coalition have been circulating e-mails with anti-Semitic messages against Strauss, who is Jewish:
— “Straus is going down in Jesus’ name,” said one e-mail, whose origins were unclear.
— Straus “clearly lacks the moral compass to be speaker,” said another, written by Southeast Texas conservative activist Peter Morrison. A Morrison e-mail said that Straus’ rabbi sits on a Planned Parenthood board and then pointed out that Straus’ opponents in the Speaker’s race “are Christians and true conservatives.” Morrison is a contributor to the white supremacy website VDARE.
— The Tea Party-backed groups are now running anti-Straus robo-calls and e-mails demanding a “true Christian speaker,” reports News 8 Austin.
— The Quorum Report, an online newsletter, reported extensively late Monday on e-mails that mentioned Straus’ Judaism, his rabbi and the Christian faith of his House critics, who include Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.
— Patrick Brendel reported that David Barton, leader of the group WallBuilders, has helped organize much of the anti-Straus campaign. Barton is a frequent contributor to the Glenn Beck program.
— Kaufman County Tea Party Chairman Ray Myers sent an e-mail last week praising a Straus opponent as “a Christian Conservative who decided not to be pushed around by the Joe Straus thugs.”
These Tea Party groups work within the larger mainstream conservative movement. Myers, Morrison, and others have signed letters and worked in conjunction with major right-wing and Republican groups, like Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Prosperity, funded and financed by billionaires David and Charles Koch, is one of the most prominent conservative organizations in the country. Its leader, Tim Phillips, ran a similarly anti-Semitic campaign before being asked by David Koch to manage Americans for Prosperity.
Previously, Phillips maintained a group called the Faith and Family Alliance to slime his political opponents with an organization that appeared to represent a grassroots community. The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that Phillips was hired by State Sen. Stephen Martin to manage his direct mail campaign against State Del. Eric Cantor in the 2000 Republican primary for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA). Phillips used his Family Alliance to blast robo-calls and mass mailers claiming Cantor — who is Jewish — did not represent “Virginia values” and that his opponent was the “only Christian in the contest.” After Phillips’ anti-Semitic attacks, Cantor went from the clear favorite in the race to winning only by 264 votes. Larry Sabato, a political analyst and the director of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, called Phillips’ efforts “a despicable, underground campaign that was unquestionably anti-Semitic.”
Tea Party groups want a more conservative Speaker than Straus to push Texas to the far right. State Rep. Leo Berman (R-TX), who ThinkProgress’ Scott Keyes wrote about earlier today, said he wanted a more conservative Speaker than Straus to push through anti-immigrant bills, an anti-Obama birther bill, and an effort to privatize public schools.