By The Dallas Morning News

The best political leaders are those who serve as an example of honesty and integrity — not only to the people they represent but to the public in general and to other politicians and political leaders.

Because Republican lawmaker Joe Straus, who has served as Texas House speaker since 2009, decided against seeking re-election this year, the race is on as to who will wield the gavel when the Legislature convenes next January.

Republicans face a potentially precarious decision. Will they select a pragmatic leader similar to Straus, who stressed the interests of Texas and all Texans, or will they go for someone more like Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who puts reactionary politics first?

Who will emerge as the new leader is anyone’s guess. Four House lawmakers already have thrown their hats in the ring and more are considering joining the race.

Despite a torrent of criticism directed at Straus during his tenure, he managed to lead the House from a narrow two-seat Republican edge to a healthy 40-seat majority that passed legislation near and dear to the hearts of the GOP, including balanced budgets and tax cuts.

But for all the success of many Republican initiatives, there remains deep-rooted anger at Straus for blocking passage of the infamous “bathroom bill” championed by Patrick as well as for opposing Patrick’s push for private-school vouchers. Straus also drew the ire of the right when he effectively scuttled an ill-advised bill to cap local property taxes.

Following 2008’s Great Recession, people both in Texas and across the nation became increasingly frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of attention from political leaders. They watched as banks, insurance companies and the auto industry received government bailouts while they were attempting, often in vain, to prevent their homes from going into foreclosure.

These developments opened the door for divisive factions within both political parties to pick up the ball and run with it. In Texas, the result was a Republican Party that shifted to the right, creating an atmosphere where wedge issues were often the norm.

Conservative leaders such as Straus suddenly became part of the “problem” with political forces on the right employing phrases like “the establishment” and “the elite” as nomenclature designed to identify Straus as one who wasn’t a “real” conservative.

In 2018, the recession is in the rearview mirror. The stock market is high, and unemployment is low. Amazon could choose Dallas or Austin to house its second headquarters. Now’s the time for the Texas Legislature to focus on real problems such as school funding, alternative energy and infrastructure.

If Texas wants to continue to be a leader in business and economic growth, the Republican Party must choose a speaker willing to stand up to the extreme elements of the party and say “no” to distracting wedge issues. As GOP lawmakers huddle this spring and summer to decide who they want to support for speaker, they would be wise to focus on a leader who can help the state meet the needs of its ever-growing population.