The story of the Straus family is a San Antonio story. The family has had a business presence in San Antonio dating back to 1870. Under the original name of the L. Frank Saddlery company, they manufactured saddles and harnesses. In 1898, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders picked up Straus-made saddles, harnesses and whips in San Antonio on their way to the Spanish-American War. As transportation changed, so did the company: What would become the Straus-Frank Company became distributors for tires and other automobile parts, as well as Frigidaire appliances and Remington guns and ammunition.
Public service is as much a part of the family’s story as commerce. In the second half of the 20th Century, Joci Straus was among a group of women who volunteered their time and energy to build the dormant Texas Republican Party into a competitive force. When meeting with her friends for political organizing, she would be accompanied by her very young son: Joe Straus III. It was through these experiences that young Joe started to develop an appreciation for volunteerism and civic engagement, and as he grew into young adulthood, Joe had the opportunity to work in small roles on Capitol Hill, in federal and state campaigns, and in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
While he was managing a congressional campaign in San Antonio, Joe met Julie Brink, herself a young politico and aide to then-U.S. Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III. They met at a campaign event at the Barn Door restaurant and would later marry. After living and working in Washington, D.C. for a few years, Joe and Julie (and eventually their two daughters, Robyn and Sara) settled in San Antonio. He shifted his focus to business but never left public service behind; instead, just like his mother before him, Joe made his impact as a volunteer and party-builder. Then, in 2005, the local seat in the Texas House of Representatives became open. Then 45 years old, Joe ran and won, joining the Texas House of Representatives to represent the place he had always known as home.
Just a few years later, the House was besieged with distrust and acrimony. Although he was relatively inexperienced, Joe had already distinguished himself as an inclusive consensus-builder, and his House colleagues elevated him to serve as their presiding officer. On January 13, 2009, he became the Speaker of the House, telling his colleagues upon taking the oath of office, “The Texas House of Representatives cannot conduct the people’s business if it is divided.”
For the next 10 years, Speaker Straus sought to lead the Texas House with that same spirit of collaboration and civility. While legislators often aired passionate disagreements over public policy, Speaker Straus always worked to maintain a respectful environment and build consensus whenever possible. Rather than chasing headlines or inflaming controversy, he remained a calm and steady force. As Texas Monthly once wrote when calling him one of the best legislators in the state, “Straus’s greatest assets are his intelligence and his temperament. Time after time, when a crisis arose, he remained unflappable.”
Speaker Straus’ approach to public policy has always been guided by the belief that elected officials should spend more time focused on the core priorities of governing — the issues that demand bold and innovative thinking rather than partisanship. This focus enabled him to lead the successful push for a historic plan to fund water infrastructure in Texas. It also led him to create the first-ever House Committee on Mental Health. And, certainly, it is why he became the state’s most high-profile champion for investing in public education.
Speaker Straus sees great public schools not only as the path to a bright future for millions of young Texans, but also as the state’s greatest economic development tool. He has championed muscular investments in education from pre-kindergarten through higher education, and he has repeatedly stood up for the power of locally elected school boards to make their own decisions about how to best serve their communities. Under his leadership, the Legislature began to reform the state’s use of standardized testing and created more pathways to career and college readiness for all students.
Speaker Straus also used his time in the Texas House to advocate for diversity and inclusiveness — values that he continues to champion. In fact, shortly after he announced 2017 that he would not seek re-election the following year, the Dallas Morning News named him “Texan of the Year,” saying he had “protected Texas from some of its worst political impulses.”
Although he does not currently hold elected office, Joe Straus III remains one of the most acclaimed voices in this country for principled, inclusive governance and bipartisan problem-solving. He continues using that voice to champion our public schools, to advance forward-looking leadership for Texas, and to contribute to the civic life of his native San Antonio.