January 07, 2007
Why the Speaker's race matters

Nice job by the Chron.

Far more is at stake in the race for Texas House speaker than just whose hand will wield the oversized pecan gavel used to bring the unruly chamber to order.

There also is influence. And there is the ability to implement laws that could affect billions of dollars in business profits or state spending.

Lobby firms whose members vacation with incumbent Speaker Tom Craddick or help him get an appointment with the pope stand to lose influence if he is ousted. So do tort reformers and businessmen Bob Perry of Houston and James Leininger of San Antonio.


Aligned with Craddick is a pair of powerful lobby firms -- Hillco Partners and the Texas Capitol Group -- which collect more than $1 million a year each in fees to represent a who's-who of business clients before the Legislature.

Texas Capitol Group lobbyist Bill Messer vacations with Craddick and his family. Messer's brother, Joe Cox, is a key researcher on Craddick's speaker staff. Mike Toomey, another lobbyist at the firm, helped Craddick win the speakership in 2003.

Hillco partner Bill Miller often serves as Craddick's political spokesman. He also arranged for the Catholic politician to have an audience with the pope at the Vatican.

Democratic political consultant Glenn Smith said the biggest loser in a Craddick defeat would be Gov. Rick Perry. Smith said Perry has been dependent in the past on Craddick to push his agenda through the Legislature.

William Lutz, managing editor of the conservative Lone Star Report, said the governor also could find opposition from Pitts to the centerpiece of his administration: expanding the state highways and building the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"Jim Pitts is not a friend of TxDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation)," Lutz said. "If Jim Pitts is speaker, the governor might get a few bills sent to his desk that he doesn't like."

This is why getting a new speaker now matter more than creating a more favorable environment for Democratic gains in 2008. For one thing, bills enacted now are not so easily undone later - we still haven't fully funded CHIP, after all, and the Trans Texas Corridor is still a reality. For another, I'm not so sure that a Democratic majority means a Democratic speaker. If the House tips Democratic by a slim margin next year, and the Speaker choices are Tom Craddick and Senfronia Thompson, are we sure all of the Craddick Dems will support their partymate? Some of them would, but I wouldn't count on all of them, because I would expect more than a few of them would lose their power once Craddick goes down. I'll say this - I guarantee that will be an issue in some primary races next March.

Elsewhere, Burka thinks that Craddick's "re-re-pledge card" a mistake and a sign of weakness. He also thinks we're in for a rough session, with more than one Speaker vote a possibility. More from Karen Brooks, RG Ratcliffe, Vince Leibowitz, and South Texas Chisme.

UPDATE: That sound you just heard is another Democrat dropping his pledge for Craddick. From a press release I just got:

In a direct and strongly worded letter delivered today, Representative Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) informed Tom Craddick that he is withdrawing his support for a third term as Speaker due to his belief that the Craddick is unwilling to return ethical and even-handed leadership to the House. Raymond wrote, "Having thoughtfully discussed this race with over two dozen of my Republican colleagues, I now know you would lose a secret ballot race by an overwhelming margin, and, frankly, I now expect you to lose regardless of how we cast our votes."

I've uploaded the letter here (1.8 MB Word doc). Check it out.

UPDATE: Two more defectors, both Republicans. I don't think either were ever likely Craddick backers, but if perception is everything in this race, then what does it look like when five people publicly abandon Tom Craddick over the weekend?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 07, 2007 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

January 7, 2007 1:07 PM

Posted by: sal costello on January 7, 2007 1:54 PM