July 22, 2007
More briefs filed for Speaker ruling from Abbott

You may recall that last month, House Speaker wannabee Rep. Jim Keffer asked AG Greg Abbott for an opinion on the matter of whether or not House Speaker Tom Craddick has absolute power to recognize or not a motion from a member; in particular, whether he must recognize a motion to vacate the Speakership. Via Brandi Grissom, Craddick and his team have filed briefs in support of his position. Both Rep. Warren Chisum and former Rep-now Parliamentarian Terry Keel weighed in on this. Paul Burka has this to say:

My ability to comment on this is somewhat limited, since I am in New Orleans using a motel computer and a printer that does not wish to print the forty-two page document, in defiance of my instruction that it do so. From what I have read so far, however, I agree completely with Craddick's initial assertion in the brief that the resolution of this issue is none of the attorney general's business.


I believe that the Texas Constitution intends for issues between the Speaker and the membership of the House to be resolved by that body, not a member of the executive branch. (Even if Abbott should, unwisely, rule on the request, his ruling is advisory rather than mandatory and cannot be binding on the speaker or the House.)

This is an issue that properly belongs to the membership. The elected representatives in the 81st Legislature will write and adopt their own rules. This is the proper forum for resolving the issue. If they want a speaker who is beyond challenge, or one who can be removed at any time, that should be their decision.

I respect Burka's logic, but I have two qualms. It's not clear to me that Craddick didn't violate the rules of the 80th Lege when he made his infamous ruling. There's a reason his former Parliamentarian resigned, after all. It's also not clear to me that Craddick and his minions won't engage in some sort of gamesmanship to rig the rulemaking process so that this issue can't get resolved. (Assuming, God forbid, that Craddick is elected Speaker again.) So perhaps the question should more properly be "What recourse (if any) does the House have for dealing with a Speaker who won't play by the rules?" Given the assertions of uncheckable executive privilege being made in Washington these days, I think we need to get this settled here in Texas as soon as possible. Who's really in charge here?

On a related note, Craddick minion Rep. Will Hartnett filed a similar request with the AG's office inquiring about how the Senate could go about unseating the Lieutenant Governor. QR has the details.

Hartnett formally asked the Attorney General to rule on whether or not the Senate can remove its presiding officer. He has also asked for an Attorney General's opinion as to whether or not the Constitution and Senate rules permit the president of the Senate to refuse recognition to a member for the purpose of vacating the chair.

In a footnote to his request (Word doc) for an AG opinion, Harnett notes, "It is my opinion that all of the questions presented in (Keffer and Cook's) Opinion Request and in this letter are political questions reserved exclusively to the legislature by the separation of powers clause in Section 1, Article II. In case you do not agree, I submit this letter to obtain a complete picture regarding the standing of the presiding officers of both houses of the legislature vis-a-vis their respective members, and to avoid a future patchwork of rulings."

I forget now where I first saw this, but someone has pointed out that the obvious difference between the Speaker and the Lite Guv is that the latter is elected by the people of Texas. One presumes that it would take some form of high crimes and misdemeanors for him to be deposed by the Senate. But we'll see what the AG has to say.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 22, 2007 to That's our Lege