Craddick may be punching bag
Craddick, speaker since 2003, staved off an effort to remove him at the end of the regular session in May, with an argument that sounded like it came out of Catch-22.
His speakership can't be challenged because he was:
• Elected at the beginning of the regular legislative session,
• Which he says means he's there for two years, even though the constitution doesn't say so,
• And he can't be removed before that,
• Because there's no such thing as a motion to vacate the chair,
• And if there were, he wouldn't recognize anyone for that motion, so
• The only way to remove him is to impeach him,
• But he'd also have to recognize someone for that motion,
• Which he won't,
• And his power to refuse recognition is absolute, and not subject to appeal,
• So there.
It is the parliamentary equivalent of "yananana na-na," followed by a Bronx cheer.
Since June, critics, beginning with Republican Reps. Jim Keffer of Eastland and Byron Cook of Corsicana, have been plying Attorney General Greg Abbott with questions and arguments about Craddick's claimed powers.
Craddick responded with arguments of his own, some of them from his new House Parliamentarian, former Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin.
Craddick says his powers are virtually equal to those of the lieutenant governor, who is the presiding officer of the Senate.
To some extent that's true, but it's an exaggeration. The lieutenant governor is elected statewide, for a four-year term. The speaker is chosen by the 150 House members from among their number, and each of them is elected every two years by a constituency 1/150th the size of the lieutenant governor's. Both leaders' powers are set for the most part by the members of their chamber in their rules.
A Craddick lieutenant, Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, asked Abbott whether, if the House can remove its presiding officer in mid-term, could the Senate also do so?
It's a loaded question, because it's an open secret that if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst runs for governor in 2010, Abbott wants to run for lieutenant governor. If he says senators can oust their presiding officer, would he undercut his own potential authority?
Craddick and his minions, including about a dozen and a half of his legislative team players, say it's up to the House to govern itself, and the attorney general should stay out of it.
Pitts, a soft-spoken, gracious representative from Waxahachie, pointed out to Abbott that while the Texas Constitution says the House "shall" pick a speaker when it assembles, it is silent on whether House members could vote to remove him later on.
Former House Speaker Rayford Price also submitted a brief, saying House members have the power to remove the speaker.
Predictions are that Abbott, who has until Dec. 15 to provide his official opinion, will punt the ball back to the Legislature. But that could be a political liability, read as siding with Craddick.
Craddick's supporters may find that alliance a political problem next year. Voters are already increasingly dissatisfied with President Bush, and Craddick and his brass knuckles could be a huge issue in 2008 House races.
Republicans on Craddick's team may face primary challengers pledging to end the heavyhandedness of Craddick and former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Same with the so-called Craddick D's - Democrats who supported him. A handful were knocked off in 2006; more could follow in 2008.
Something may cause Craddick to step down or aside, or Abbott might issue a surprisingly stiff opinion.
But Democrats hope Craddick survives, at least through the November 2008 election. They need a good punching bag.