In a move that can shake up the future of Texas politics, Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has decided he will not run for re-election to his San Antonio-based seat next year.
Straus' current term expires in December 2018, just before the next Legislature convenes.
Straus, who has been the Speaker of the Texas House since 2009, made the announcement Wednesday morning on his Facebook page, saying he believes elected officials should hold office only for a short time, not a lifetime.
"I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year. My time as a State Representative and as Speaker will end at the conclusion of my current term," his statement said.
In January, his colleagues elected Straus to a record-tying fifth term unanimously — signifying that he was at the height of his power.
NBC 5 political reporter Julie Fine spoke to Straus in Austin about the decision. He recently told her he would run again, so she asked what changed.
"Reflection. Really time to think about. I took my own advice that I give to members who come to me after a session, and say, 'I am thinking about not running, what should I do?' I say, 'Well go home and think about it,'" Straus said.
Straus believes the timing is right.
"I was elected in a pretty unconventional way. Unexpectedly. And I think it's good that I am leaving in an unexpected way. On my own terms. Speakers traditionally, and for the last decades, a lot of decades, haven't been able to leave on their own terms. And I think that's important,' he said.
Straus made the decision after two contentious sessions. The speaker had a strained relationship with Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate, and already had a challenger before this announcement. But Straus said the tension did not affect his decision.
"There were was some unfortunate episodes where certain state leaders let their emotions get the best of them, but that never affected me. I stayed focused on working in the house," Straus said.
Straus was the voice of the moderate wing of the Republican Party and lead the effort to block the so-called "bathroom bill" targeting transgender students.
The House speaker decides committee assignments, and Straus used top lieutenants to block top legislation such as the bathroom bill. Conservative groups have for years decried Straus as a closet Democrat, but he crushed primary challenges backed by the tea party movement in recent electoral cycles.
"I want to continue to be a voice for responsible Republicans, and I will be, hopefully, through this '18 cycle. I will be serving as speaker, so I will be actively engaged in supporting other Republicans who have been part of our team and who done a good, responsible job addressing issues that are important to all Texans, not just some of these divisive issues," Straus said.
Straus said right now he is not planning to run for higher office, but he did not completely rule it out.
"I don't have any immediate plans," he said. "I have to tell you the reception I am getting through the state, especially after this last session and special session, has been very, very positive. There is a real hunger for a Republican voice out there that is talking about pro- growth policies, talking about issues that attract jobs to Texas — that does not chase them away — and so whether it is an elective office or whether it is another platform that will have to develop, I plan to stay engaged and look forward to that."
For now, he will be supporting other candidates while he decides what his future holds.
"I am proud that the record will show that on our best days in the Texas House, the way I tried to lead, bringing people together, not trying to divide people, but bringing people together and trying to provide some level of statesmanship here, that that can work," Straus said.