The Texas Constitution protects House Speaker Tom Craddick from moves by foes to "vacate the chair" and kick him out of his leadership position before his term is up, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Friday.
They can still move to expel him from his legislative office as Midland's state representative with a two-thirds vote, or the House and Senate could impeach him, according to the opinion issued late Friday.
But only the Senate has the power to decide whether impeachment of the speaker would mean his removal - either from his leadership position or from office. The impeachment trial would be by the Senate.
Mr. Abbott declined to address questions over whether the speaker has "absolute authority," as Mr. Craddick claimed, to recognize or decline to recognize any member for any reason - on a vote to remove him from his leadership position, or on any other issue. The attorney general said it was not in his authority to address House rules matters.
In a strongly worded statement, Reps. Jim Keffer and Byron Cook, both Republicans who requested the opinion in June, slammed the opinion and said it "only reaffirms the adage: 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' "
"We strongly disagree with the unprecedented contention that the office of Speaker is a statewide officer. Furthermore, it is unprecedented to contend that the House Speaker is subject to removal by a vote of the Texas Senate," the statement said. "It now appears that the integrity of Texas Government is still at a critical crossroads. Enough is enough. The people of Texas need to let their local representatives know that they've had enough of Tom Craddick's one-man dictatorship."