To vote in secret for Speaker or not to vote in secret for Speaker, that is the question.
According to conventional wisdom, a record vote next week means Craddick stays put; a secret vote means he packs up the contents of his remodeled Capitol apartment and prepares himself for a non-leadership appointment on the "Irrelevant Committee."
"It'll be the test of the speaker's race," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, a Craddick ally.
"I think the secret ballot is the ballgame," said Royal Masset, a GOP strategist. "Craddick loses with a secret ballot. It's the wooden stake in the vampire."
So keen is Craddick on a record vote that on Friday, his top lieutenants filed a proposal to conduct the election by a random roll call.
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said he hadn't seen the proposal but said it didn't sound very well thought out. "If you do it one at a time instead of everybody voting at once, the people at the end of the vote will decide who wins, or will throw their vote to whoever the leader is," he said.
Suzy Woodford, of Common Cause, said leadership elections should be the one exception to the rule of open ballots -- secret votes are the only way to get a vote untainted by fear of retribution, she said.
"We absolutely are for open government. However, we are also for the sanctity of being able to ... vote your conscience without fear of retribution. If I want to be a chairman and I vote for the 'wrong one,' my chances of being a chair are zilch, or I will be assigned to a committee that oversees a broom closet.
"If we had a secret-ballot election for speaker everyone would be free to vote their conscience," she said.
Tom "Smitty" Smith, of Public Citizen, said: "We think that the statements of members are proof positive that unless they can pass the ballot in secret that their vote will be determined by their fear that they might get sent to the Committee of no Importance and their bills sent to the Calendar of No Return."
Many Capitol observers say the selection of the next speaker will be decided at the start of the legislative session, when members adopt the election rules.
Craddick, who has been accused of retaliating against members who don't vote his way, can assume he'll be the next speaker if members vote to hold the election by record vote, these observers say. If a secret ballot prevails, Craddick's pledge list will melt away, they say.
"There is the presumption that a vote for a secret ballot is a vote against Craddick," said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who said he hasn't yet considered whether he'll support a secret or record vote.
Bear in mind, as former State Rep. Glen Maxey points out, the members of the House decide what the rules are, not the Speaker. Traditionally, they vote to adopt whatever the rules were in the last session until they sort it all out for the current one. I think the fact that Craddick is pushing hard for a resolution to do the Speaker vote in this unusual fashion belies the current conventional wisdom - or perception, if you prefer - that Craddick is in a strong position to win. If he's so damn confident in his pledge list, why should he care how the ballot is conducted?
Maybe Craddick has a reason to fear the strength of his pledges. According to the Quorum Report, two people on his latest pledge list have just abandoned him. Chuck Hopson, whom I'd heard over a week ago would oppose Craddick, makes it official today:
Today State Representative Chuck Hopson announced he is removing his name from Speaker Craddick's list and backing Jim Pitts for Speaker of the House.
Hopson said his continued concerns over Craddick's leadership style were confirmed when the proposed roll call vote was released yesterday. "We have been told that Speaker Craddick would be more open and balanced next session, but his actions clearly speak louder than his words.
"I want to vote for the best person for the job for the Speaker of the House and Jim Pitts is the obvious choice.
"I am glad that Jim is in this race to give the members a choice for the future direction of the Texas House."
"After a brief phone conversation with Speaker Craddick 'I have withheld my pledge until January 9th . This decision was made after receiving numerous phone calls from his supporters. I have always believed that there should never be a question of one's pledge, but when you are continuously questioned about that pledge, it has led me to believe that my pledge was not good enough, therefore I have decided to make my decision on the house floor.
"I have been asked about supporting Representative Jim Pitts for speaker. In the past I have worked in both the House and in Mr. Pitts' committee. Based on my positive experiences with Jim Pitts, I believe he is a good candidate for speaker.
"I also believe that the Texas House deserves a fair leader who will put doing what is right for every part of the state - including south Texas - above doing what is best for special interests. The Texas House must be led in the right way. That means every Member will be protected, and every Member will be encouraged to vote his or her conscience and district.
"I look forward to joining my colleagues in casting my vote for the Speaker of the House on January 9th 2007."
Apparently a new, refreshed pledge for the incumbent is insufficient.
The new, improved Craddick pledge card sent to members yesterday reads, "I am committed to voting for Speaker Tom Craddick for Speaker, and I am also committed to supporting public, recorded vote for the Speaker-Elections".
UPDATE: From the Chron Texas Politics blog:
Martinez gave indications he is leaning toward Pitts, calling him "a good candidate for speaker." Martinez said he also believes the House needs a "fair leader."
That has been part of the code words for calling Craddick an autocratic master of the House by his opponents.
Craddick nose counter Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, shrugged off the loss of a couple of votes.
"This has never been about a one-vote margin," Chisum said.
But he admitted he didn't know Hopson was off the reservation. "I guess I'll have to call him.