Craddick brought it all on himself
Craddick, serving his third term, announced for a fourth after another lieutenant, Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, said he'll run in 2009. Since then, three other Republicans - Brian McCall of Plano, Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, and Fred Hill of Richardson - have filed.
Cook, who voted for Craddick all three times he was elected speaker, proposed that speakers be limited to three two-year terms. He charged that Craddick is abusing his authority in an effort to hang on to it.
Limiting speaker terms is not a new argument. In fact, Craddick used it when he repeatedly sought, finally successfully, to unseat his predecessor, Democrat Pete Laney.
Craddick said Laney said when he was running that he would serve just two two-year terms. Laney may have implied that, but there is no record he ever actually made a flat declaration.
Only in the last three decades has a Texas House speaker served more than two consecutive two-year terms.
The first was Billy Clayton, a conservative Democrat from Springlake, who beginning in 1975 served eight years. His successors - Democrats Gib Lewis and Laney - each served for 10 years.
That's 28 years under just three speakers. In the previous 28 years, the House had 12 speakers -- although two of them, in 1972, served only briefly after Speaker Gus Mutscher resigned after his indictment in the Sharpstown stock fraud and banking scandal.
Clayton wanted to run for statewide office. But as his second term was ending in 1978, there were no statewide offices open that he thought he could win.
He planned to run for agriculture commissioner in 1982 - to the point of having campaign stationery printed. But his indictment in the Brilab sting investigation killed his chances, even though he was acquitted.
As state government grew, the three speakers after Clayton - Lewis, Laney and Craddick - found the speakership to be more powerful than many statewide offices. Plus, the speaker had to face voters in just one of 150 House districts.
He does have to get the votes of 75 of his colleagues to stay in power. But since the speaker appoints committees and their chairmen, and can have enormous influence on legislation and appropriations, ambitious House members tend to try to stay in the speaker's good graces.
After winning the speakership, its power provides a momentum that tends to keep legislators on the speaker's team, and causes most new legislators to join the team. To get along, they go along.
Cook correctly spelled out the principal reasons House members are displeased with Craddick's conduct as speaker.
They are tired of being herded around like sheep, and a considerable number - including some former members who were defeated for re-election - feel that Craddick has demanded their votes on some issues that were against the wishes of their constituents. Laney, by contrast, almost always told House members to vote their districts.
Craddick's rise to power is reminiscent of how Newt Gingrich engineered a Republican revolution in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994. Gingrich had recruited candidates around the country, and helped them get financed. When the Republicans won a majority, they rewarded him with the speakership.
Similarly, Craddick also recruited and helped raise money for Texas House candidates around the state. With the help of legislative redistricting that shuffled districts for the 2002 elections, and corporate money funneled to targeted races by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Craddick became the first GOP speaker in more than a century.
After four controversial years, Gingrich became such a hot potato that his own team dropped him over the side. And now Craddick has become so problematical that a growing number of Republican members are ready to join the large majority of Democrats to get rid of him.
Reach McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 323-0248.