So let's assume that nothing crazy happens, and that Rep. John Smithee - or as Rep. Leo Berman would call him, Rep. John What's-His-Name - can't peel away enough of Rep. Joe Straus' supporters (now up to 94, make that 96), and Straus gets elected the next Speaker of the State House. Given this, what can we expect? I have a couple of thoughts on that.
1. Less turmoil. At least, less turmoil generated by things like declarations of absolute authority, for which ex-Speaker Craddick was notorious. I also presume there will be less turmoil due to the lack of Craddick henchmen in positions of authority, like Terry Keel and Ron Wilson. I suppose that will make for less blog fodder, but I'll take that trade. Of course, as I have suggested and Burka has echoed, Craddick can still cause chaos in any number of ways, legitmate and otherwise. On the one hand, he may prefer to bow out with dignity. On the other hand, what has he to gain from magnaminity? We may yet see unprecedented shenanigans.
2. Fewer egregious bills on the floor. I have to presume that the List of 64 Dems got themselves some kind of plums for their unified support of Straus. They did always have the option of being coy and letting the chips fall where they may. Some people believe that the Dems would be better positioned for 2010 with Craddick still in charge, after all. I'll have more on that in a minute, but I heard rumblings to that effect well before November 4, so it's not like that's a radical notion. In any event, whether it's a better assortment of committee chairs or just keeping stupid stuff like xenophobic anti-immigration bills and voter ID legislation from getting oxygen, I trust the Dems extracted a few promises along these lines before they gave it up for Straus. I sure as hell hope they did, anyway. And if I don't hear some way-off-the-record whispers to that effect within an hour or two of posting this, I'll be surprised.
3. A chance to actually address some of Texas' real problems. It should be clear by now that Tom Craddick didn't give a damn about things like school finance, the encironment, or CHIP. While it may still not be possible to really move meaningful legislation through the House on these subjects - and even if you could, there's still David Dewhurst and Rick Perry to contend with - at the very least I expect to have to play less defense against measures to do even more damage in these areas. I also expect that even if the kinds of bills I want to see ultimately get voted down, we'll still see debates on them on the kind of terms they deserve to be debated on. I see the possibility of being for stuff, instead of just against stuff.
For that reason, I agree with Phil that the change in Speakership will not put the Dems at a political disadvantage in 2010. The effect may wind up being neutral, since I think 2010 is likely to be fairly static in legislative races anyway, given the current makeup of the House and the paucity of districts that appear ripe for turnover. But being able to debate better legislation, regardless of whether it gets passed or thwarted by nefarious foes other than the former Speaker, should be something we all welcome.
I could certainly be wrong about any or all of this. As I say, we still haven't even officially voted Straus in yet, and we don't know who his leadership team and committee chair choices will be. But I know I feel a whole lot better about this session now than I did a couple of weeks ago. BOR has video and Elise Hu has photos from Straus' press conference today.
UPDATE: The ubiquitous Elise Hu has video of Smithee's concession speech.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 05, 2009 to That's our Lege