December 19, 2004
Off to a great start

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."

It's interesting to me that while Sylvester Turner was happy to be quoted on the record defending Speaker Craddick's choices for the challenge panel, none of his apparent Republican critics were willing to have any words attributed to them, even anonymously. Are they that afraid of retribution? And the differences between how Craddick has handled things so far and how Pete Laney did before him are pretty telling. All that doesn't exactly fill me with a warm fuzzy feeling about how these challenges will be resolved. Thanks to KF for the tip.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 19, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

My prediction: this session will begin in near metldown mode over the election contests brought by the Republican sore losers, especially Talmadge Heflin of Houston.

To salvahe the session, Craddick and his cronies will toss out Heflin's challenge and then boast that they have defended democracy in a "reasonable and bi-patrisan manner."

But the real meltdown will come late in the session, when the Perry Regime puts the screws to legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to allow slot machines and other expansions of gambling.

That's where the real money is. And the fat cats that have bankrolled Perry's political career are not going to let the session end without their gambling legislation.

By the way, the election to approve or disapprove the constitutional amendment will be called for mid-September.

Posted by: Embree Timlin on December 20, 2004 8:59 AM