The Chron has a little bit more on the House panel which will decide the three electoral challenges. There's more on panel vice-chair Craig Eiland here. Steve Wasserman of KPRC joins the list of anti-Heflin editorialists. The Austin Chronicle summarizes things and notes some grousing over the prospect of these challenges.
All of that is small potatoes compared to a December 8 story from Capitol Inside, in which Talmadge Heflin pleads his case to the State Republican Executive Committee and claims to have the tacit support of Speaker Craddick for his challenge. Click on the More link to read the full piece. Thanks to KF for the heads-up.
December 8, 2004
Heflin Tells SREC that Speaker
Didn't Try to Discourage Contest
BY Mike Hailey
State Rep. Talmadge Heflin told state GOP leaders this past weekend that he wouldn't be contesting his failed re-election bid if Speaker Tom Craddick would have asked him not to challenge the outcome in the Texas House.
The Houston Republican took his fight for political survival to a meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee, which voted to support Heflin's move to take back the House seat that Democrat Hubert Vo appeared to wrestle away from him in the general election last month.
Heflin used the setting to make his case to have Vo's 33-vote victory overturned by House members on grounds that the election was tainted by fraudulent voting. The 22-year legislative veteran reiterated the charges that lawyer Andy Taylor has been airing over the past couple of weeks, contending that votes were cast by people who don't live in the west Houston district, people who voted twice and others whose votes were illegal for other alleged reasons.
The most compelling part of Heflin's talk to the group may have come when he mentioned Craddick - a longtime ally who had appointed the Houston lawmaker to the the powerful House Appropriations Committee chair after Republicans seized control of the lower chamber after the 2002 elections.
Heflin reportedly told the governing board that he was a team player -and that he would have dropped the election challenge if the Speaker had asked him to do so. But Heflin indicated that he decided to pursue the challenge after Craddick did not try to persuade him to drop it.
The speaker's office has insisted for the past month that Craddick planned to stay out of the fray over the disputed Houston race and two other election contests that have been filed by Karnes City lawyer Eric Opiela and State Rep. Jack Stick of Austin. Craddick has already replaced Heflin on the budget-writing panel with State Rep. Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican, in order to keep the appropriations process on track with the regular session set to convene in January.
The unique nature of Heflin's election contest has sparked a flurry of speculation at the Capitol over potential strategies, purported deals and guarded predictions about what might transpire when the House determines who won the race.
Craddick this week appointed a special committee to review the evidence in the three separate cases and named Dallas Republican State Rep. Will Hartnett as the master of discovery who will oversee the chamber's inquiry into the contested elections. Insiders on both sides of the partisan divide immediately began trying to dissect the committee lineup in an attempt to get a read on the speaker's potential position. State Rep. Terry Keel, an Austin Republican, will chair the Select Committee on Election Contests and Democratic State Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston will serve as its vice-chairman. Hartnett is the chairman of the House Judicial Affairs Committee while Keel chairs the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. While Hartnett and Keel are House leaders and Craddick allies, neither have been considered a member of the speaker's inner circle.
Eiland is highly respected among both Republicans and Democrats, but he's fought the Republican majority on issues ranging from state spending to tort reform to redistricting. While Eiland has worked with members of the majority party, he's also a loyal Democrat who rarely backs down from the positions he embraces. Hartnett, Keel and Eiland are all lawyers.
The committee has five Republicans and four Democrats. GOP members are State Reps. Mary Denny of Aubrey, Suzanna Gratia Hupp of Lampasas, Phil King of Weatherford and Larry Phillips of Sherman. The Democrats include State Reps. Helen Giddings of Dallas, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Alan Ritter of Nederland. Giddings and Ritter chair the House Business & Industry and Pensions and Investments committees respectively. King has been one of Craddick's most loyal lieutenants in the past two years as the Regulated Industries Committee chairman and the sponsor of congressional redistricting. Denny chairs the Elections Committee. Hupp has been leading the Select Interim on Child Welfare & Foster Care. Phillips is completing his first term while serving as vice-chair of the Transportation Committee.
While the committee will weigh evidence that Heflin and the other two election challengers bring before it, perceptions of public opinion may have as much or more sway over the final decisions. Heflin's appearance before the SREC appears to be part of a Republican strategy designed to counter newspaper editorials calling on the veteran lawmaker to drop his challenge and to accept the defeat. Initial news stories on the prospect of a House contest referred to the fact that an election outcome hasn't been overturned since the year Heflin was elected to the lower chamber. The articles have pointed out that the partisan vote that led to a special repeat election in 1982 appeared to spark the voters' wrath.
Heflin supporters now face the challenge of convincing not only House members but their constituents as well that justice won't be served if he loses his seat. There's already speculation about possible partisan retaliation against Republicans who don't vote to overthrow the election results in the Houston race and Democrats who don't back Vo tooth and nail.
One school of thought has been that the speaker - while disappointed that his old friend and ally went down in defeat - won't like the idea of having the regular session began on a note that could divide the chamber throughout it. While Heflin didn't say that Craddick encouraged him to pursue the contest, he apparently left some SREC members with the impression that he had at least tacit support from the speaker when he didn't try to get him to withdraw the challenge.
Even without the eyebrow-raising reference to the speaker, the SREC would have likely voted to back the challenge given its partisan nature and the bitter rivalry between the two parties. Whether or not it gave a truly revealing clue of Craddick's mindset on the election challenges remains to be seen.