Latest: 'Some' like that Straus blocked right-wing policies

FILE - In this July 18, 2017, file photo, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, calls the House of Representatives to order in Austin, Texas. Straus, a powerful moderate voice that kept the country's largest conservative state from moving even father to the right, abruptly announced Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, that he won't seek re-election. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Eric Gay

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The unexpected retirement of the leading moderate Republican in Texas politics comes as Democrats struggle to find candidates to fill a statewide 2018 ballot while unwavering conservatives line up big donors and have few rivals.

Republican House Speaker Joe Straus announced his departure just months after he scuttled a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people. His opposition was cheered by powerless Texas Democrats who grew to embrace the five-term speaker as a check on conservatives.

Now the stakes surrounding a successor are high since the chances of Democrats or GOP moderates seizing power in 2018 elections are low. The Texas Legislature is next scheduled to reconvene until 2019.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has $40 million in campaign funds even though he still has no serious opponent for next year.

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