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We’ve got ourselves a speaker’s race

By now you’ve heard, as Paul Burka first reported, that Republican Rep. Brian McCall has announced his candidacy for Speaker of the Texas House.

McCall has a reputation of getting along with different factions. If elected, he is expected to bring a more even-handed approach to the role, allowing members to vote the interests of their districts, rather than succumb to the dictates of the speaker.

Rumors have been swirling around the Capitol for weeks about a possible challenge, but some doubted anyone would dare take on Craddick.

The race is expected to be a nasty political battle, played out mostly behind the scenes before a vote is taken when the Legislature convenes Jan. 9.

McCall, a nine-term legislator, filed the necessary papers for the speaker’s race Friday.


Some compare Craddick’s style with DeLay’s.

”He’s basically been the face of the Republican Party in Texas, and that has resulted in significant Democratic gains in the Texas House, and Republicans tell me they are sick and tired of that,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, said.


McCall is seen as more even-handed.

”He is a fair-minded person and has a track record of encouraging members to make up their own minds,” Dunnam said of McCall.

Obviously, from my perspective as a Democrat, having Senfronia Thompson as Speaker would be optimal. Assuming that’s not a likely outcome, then put me on the Anybody But Craddick bandwagon. I don’t know much about Brian McCall, but if Jim Dunnam is saying nice things about him, he’s good enough for me.

Actually, I don’t have to rely on Rep. Dunnam’s perspective. Rep. McCall ran for Speaker in 2003 as well, and he wrote a letter (first published in Quorum Report) that quite clearly delineates how his approach to the Speakership would be different. What he has to say there is definitely good enough for me. I’ve reproduced it beneath the fold so you can see for yourself.

It’s very simple. Tom Craddick is a bad Speaker. He’s bad for Texas. Brian McCall, by all available evidence, would be a much better Speaker. You can construct all kinds of game-theoretic political scenarios where having Craddick as Speaker makes it easier for the Dems to make more gains in the House in 2008, but they’d all be a load of crap. Texas can’t afford another legislative session in which Craddick wields the gavel. We deserve better, and this is our chance to get it.

One lawmaker who has spoken to McCall said McCall and his supporters hope to make a formal announcement Tuesday or Wednesday.

“The numbers are there. If he gets written commitments from the people who have given verbal commitments, then it’s done,” said the member who did not want to be identified.


One veteran Republican legislator who also asked not to be identified said McCall should have waited until the eve of the session before emerging with his candidacy.

”I think they are blowing it. They are giving everybody in the state the chance to buy off the ones they think are the conservative vote,” the GOP lawmaker said of the expected push by Craddick to stay in power.

I dunno. I suspect, as Rick Casey reported, that this secret was kept for a pretty long time, something that’s not easy to do in the Capitol. Burka first reported on the rumors on Thursday, so McCall may as well have mailed in his papers after that. I’ll say this: The doubts about Craddick have swirled since Election Day. If there wasn’t already a campaign to put pressure on members to keep Craddick in power, then you could write his obituary today. I don’t think the timing of this announcement changes that part of the dynamic that much.

”There are folks who are very much invested in the current leadership. People are fearful that their legislation won’t pass, that they may lose committee posts,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.


Democrats said they can deliver up to 60 votes for McCall, with only some of the so-called Craddick Democrats — essentially those he rewarded with committee chairmanships — willing to stick with the incumbent. They don’t want to surrender their grasp of the gavel.

However, there is pressure on them to side with McCall, or they risk losing their position and standing should they stay with Craddick and McCall wins.

House Border and International Affairs Chair Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, declined to discuss the dilemma she faces. Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, another Craddick ally and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, did not return a call.

Dunnam said he and many Democrats support Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who announced her challenge against Craddick early this year. No woman has ever been elected speaker of the Texas House. Thompson, who could not be reached Saturday, has said in the past that she would release her pledges if someone else could defeat Craddick.

”If Miss Thompson releases me from my pledge, certainly I would be more favorable to Brian McCall,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. ”Texas needs a new speaker of the House so that we return to meritorious policymaking and true bipartisanship.”

Gallego said he thinks the chances of McCall defeating Craddick ”are in his favor if he puts on a full-court press.”

”The discontent (under Craddick’s leadership) has been pretty strong for a long time,” Gallego said.

Republicans in the House will of course have some hard decisions to make. It’s easy to be the 76th vote for McCall, but those votes in between will be hard won.

A key point here is just how many Republican votes will be needed to get to 76. To cite Burka again, Houston Republican Robert Talton is apparently making calls on McCall’s behalf. Talton could deliver a decent-sized bloc of votes in a tight Speaker’s race. That may be the difference between the status quo and Speaker McCall. If that happens, Dems will owe Talton, and the one thing they can give him is a pass in 2008. I’ll be the first person to tell you that Talton’s seat is well within reach for Dems in 2008, and that they’re going to need his seat if they ever hope to regain a Democratic majority. All of us who want Craddick out are going to have to come to terms with the possibility that some decisions we may not like may have to be made to make that happen. I don’t like it one little bit, but we need to be aware of it. I’ll say it again: Deposing Craddick is worth an awful lot. Whatever you think about this, make up your mind quickly, because it’ll be all over before you know it.

Having said all that, maximizing the Democratic support for McCall means minimizing the need to deal with the likes of Talton for victory. Muse lists Craddick’s strongest Demcratic allies, to which I’d add Kevin Bailey. If one of those reps is yours, I’d strongly encourage you to give him or her a call and extoll McCall’s virtues. There will be time to put the squeeze on these folks, as Muse suggests. For now, I’d advise using honey to catch some flies.

Houtopia and BOR also weigh in. Click on for Rep. McCall’s letter.

In less than 30 days, Texans will be making a momentous decision about the make up of the Texas House. In less than 90 days, we will be making an equally important decision about whom we elect as our Speaker.

All understand the arithmetic that will have to come into play for there to be the first Republican Speaker in 128 years. The time has come now to frankly discuss the other criteria important to the decision we will be making as we determine who will preside over our Chamber. If the math is there for the Republicans, you may have the opportunity to choose between the current Republican frontrunner and me.

As a small David to a big Goliath in this Speaker?s race, I have the responsibility to tell you why I believe that you should cast your vote for me and to contrast what I believe the differences to be.

The person elected to preside over the House in 2003 will be leading this Body in a time of delicate balancing needs. In order for us to do our jobs, the order of the day should be consensus– not partisanship. We will not reach wise decisions and avoid legislative gridlock by implementing the agendas of the few and the powerful, (thus creating partisan debts); but rather, by allowing debate and facilitating negotiations between many. Contrast that.

Texas has moved from a state where rural/agrarian and petroleum-based economies were the driving force to one where urban/new economies are the dominant factors. Not only do I best understand the problems of the urban/suburban economy and have the constituent base to support me in that understanding (and having grown up in a ranching family), I am the candidate that is better able to bridge the gap between the former agenda, and the agenda of the future. Contrast that.

My leadership style is based on a history of inclusiveness, knowing all the members of our House and making an effort to get to understand them for who they are and the unique challenges of the areas they represent. My record is one that demonstrates my ability to lead to solutions and decisions from which we can all walk away with dignity. Contrast that.

The economic and social priorities of our various districts are vastly different. A capable Speaker must be able to address each member?s concerns and needs without a partisan political agenda, yet firmly guide the process to resolution with fairness and respect. Contrast that.

I have never given a wink and a nod to those little groups who would through rumor and misrepresentation seek to defame any member of the Legislature. Instead, I?ve stood up to them, defended my peers (regardless of party or position), and taken my own hits. I take no comfort from the fire set to burn “them” in order to warm “us”. In any legislative body, “us” and “them” are in constant flux. Contrast that.

I am indebted to no one in my efforts to be our Speaker. There are no big funders, members of Congress, or party operatives who have made calls or implied consequences to those unpledged to my candidacy. There is no predetermined “team” that will require me to divert from what I believe is best and most fair for decisions that reflect the best interests of the House. Contrast that.

You know me. You know that this is a difficult letter for me to write to advocate my election as Speaker. But the time has come to draw the differences. To those uncommitted (and to those who are feeling they have leaned their ladder against the wrong wall), my message is plain. If — between Tuesday, November 5th, and Tuesday, January 14th — it becomes apparent that a historical change is in the offing, I urge you to consider whom you can trust to best lead the House to bring about understanding and solution through a period where truly a House divided will not stand . . .

I would value your support and appreciate your trust.

With highest regard, I remain

Very truly yours,
Brian McCall

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  1. muse says:

    Yeah, I left out Kevin Bailey by mistake. Also, what I heard is that McCall was pressed to announce early because of the special laws regarding the speaker’s race. His announcing early protects those who are already involved in the race on his behalf. You have to actually file for speaker to raise money, conduct campaign activities, etc. There are special rules for the speaker candidate and for his/her supporters who get involved in the race.

  2. Jeb says:

    The sub-rosa race and maneuvering for Speaker was begun months before election day. I find it interesting that the news broke right before Christmas. I wonder whether that was a tactical decision or whether Burka got wind of the race (I know, stranger things have happened; even a stopped clock is right twice a day) and prompted them to go public.