Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus spoke on campus Tuesday about his experiences in legislative leadership and the current state of politics.
“There’s always been polarization in politics,” Straus said. “But I think what we lack right now is leadership that’s committed to bringing people together. There’s always going to be arguments and disagreements but you have to bring people back together.”
Straus served as the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for 10 years before stepping away in January 2019. The San Antonio native represented District 121, which includes part of San Antonio, for 14 years.
As part of the Dean’s Distinguished Leader Series, he spoke to students and faculty in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
“Learning from people who have actually practiced policy is a valuable experience,” LBJ communications manager Victoria Yu said. “Students are super engaged and are able to ask questions to people with real-life experience they wouldn’t normally be able to ask.”
Straus answered questions from the audience and said pragmatism and compromise was important in today’s poltical climate.
“In order to make things happen, you have got to bring other people in,” Straus said. “I’ve always proudly embraced being called a pragmatist. That doesn’t mean you lose your principles. But you have to be willing to find compromises.”
LBJ graduate student Alex Meed said he worked as a legislative aide earlier this year. He said he was watching the 85th session of the Texas Legislature very closely and was impressed with Straus.
“I was very impressed with how (Straus) was able to manage a very contentious and partisan House and cater to all its members,” Meed said.
After Straus spoke about how he started his career as the longest serving Republican speaker, Meed said Straus and speakers like him help students make decisions about their own careers.
“It helps me emulate or vary from their approaches to their careers,” Meed said. “It’s important for people going into the policy sphere to learn from people that have substantial experience themselves.”
Straus also provided advice to students interested in going into politics.
“The only advice I would give you is to always do what you think is right,” Straus said. “Wherever you go in life, keep doing what’s right, and stick it out.”