The Express News gives a preview of the 79th Lege and the election challenges it must resolve before it can get down to business. They focus on Tom Craddick and his professed desire to get past the partisan rancor that marked the 78th Lege.
"This is the speaker's committee. Most of them are speaker loyalists and, as such, would not be prime candidates to study the evidence with strong, independent eyes and ears," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, one of Craddick's sharpest critics.
Even some of Craddick's fellow Republicans privately echo the complaints now heard from many of Craddick's Democratic foes — that he deliberately put junior lawmakers on the panel who would be less willing to resist the speaker's pressure.
The speaker's backers, including Democrats, say Craddick is upholding the integrity of the House, not maneuvering to predetermine the panel's decisions.
Craddick hasn't spoken publicly on the issue, which Heflin has said he interprets as the speaker giving tacit approval to launch the challenge and have fellow House members decide it.
Democrat Pete Laney dealt with three election challenges in the decade in which he preceded Craddick as House speaker. In each case, he consulted with Republicans and named both party caucus chairmen to the committees. None of those challenges succeeded.
Craddick's critics note the speaker has yet to communicate with Democratic Party caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco, who said that "traditionally, caucus chairs or people elected to represent their party had input" in the naming of such panels.
None of the five Republicans and four Democrats that Craddick named to his committee has more than 10 years in the House; two have just completed their first terms. Two of the Democrats were named committee chairmen by Craddick last term, making them part of his leadership team.
One of them, Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, was one of the few Democrats who did not join the exodus to Oklahoma last year, where 51 Democrats fled to delay, but ultimately not stop, the GOP redistricting effort.
One Houston Democrat, Rep. Sylvester Turner, whom Craddick named speaker pro tem, said he is confident the panel "will vote based on the evidence, because they are aware that the integrity of the institution must always prevail."