Did the Democrats make a mistake? UPDATE
Thu January 8, 2009 10:28 am

Note to readers:

This original post (scroll down below the asterisks) noting the ironies for both parties surrounding the presumed election of Straus as speaker, has kicked up a bit of a furor. I unwittingly blundered into a fierce debate among Democrats. Party people such as Matt Angle think that the party is better off with Craddick as speaker. They want him to continue committing the excesses that have benefited the Democrats politically. The legislative leadership believes that lawmakers are elected to get things done for their constituents and the state, and that this was not possible for Democrats so long as Craddick was speaker. The party's position is tantamount to saying, Yes, the house is on fire, and yes, you have a hose, but we prefer that you keep throwing gasoline on the flames.

In the section of the blog that is reserved for comments, I posted a reply to a commenter, citing a conversation I had had with Jim Dunnam during the previous speaker's race. Here is what I wrote: "Dunnam told me once, about the effort to get rid of Craddick, that three things could happen, and two of them were bad. The worst thing for the Democrats, he said, was a good Republican speaker. The next worst was that the Democrats would win a majority but might not be able to govern. The best outcome was for Craddick to stay, because he would continue to make the Republicans in the House and the entire party look bad. So, yes, they knew what they were doing when they voted for Straus. They did the responsible thing. But responsibility may come at a high price."

It wasn't too long before I heard from Dunnam himself. He said--I wasn't taking notes, so this is a paraphrase--(1) that he had never said that the worst thing for the Democrats was a good Republican speaker, (2) that all he has done for the last several months is work for the election of a good Republican speaker, and (3) what he had said on several previous occasions was that the worst thing could happen to the Democrats was the election of a Republican who was just like Craddick, only without the rough edges (my paraphrase). He volunteered that he had often joked that winning a majority could be a problem, like the dog catching the car. My memory of the previous conversation was not far off, but it was off by enough, and the situation is sensitive enough--there are still people working to blow up the coalition speakership--that my reply to the commenter called Dunnam's sincerity into account. This was neither my intention nor my reading of the situation.

The original post appears below:

* * * *

I wonder if any Democrats are having second thoughts about supporting Joe Straus for speaker. Do they realize what they have done? They have removed from public visibility the number one villain in Texas politics, Tom Craddick, whose moss-draped political philosophy was out of touch with anything east, west, north, or south of Midland, and who was totally incapable of governing the House. Craddick was the Democrats' meal ticket. The chaos he created fed the opposition party's resurgence. It is no coincidence that the only footholds the Democrats have in Texas are urban courthouses and a near-majority of the House. In Craddick's place, the Democrats have helped to install an intelligent, public spirited, moderate Republican aristocrat whose family has resources to use in political campaigns that dwarf Stars over Texas. Straus is perfectly positioned to build a mainstream Republican majority that can last for years. And who is upset about this? Not the Democrats. It's the Republicans! He's the best thing that could possibly happen to them, and yet even members I regard as top-drawer were telling me things like, "I can't go with him" and "he's going to be a one-term speaker." No, you dummies, he's going to be lieutenant governor. He's going to be governor. If he wants to be. Here you have people in two political parties that worked assiduously against their own best interests. The Democrats can be excused. The Republicans can't. I can understand why the Democrats supported Straus. They were tired of having Craddick kick sand in their faces and they wanted a chance to participate. They understand that their job is to help fashion good public policy for Texas, not to develop some grand political design for the future. But I can't understand why the Republicans didn't instantly rush to support Straus. They were so wrapped up in their internal debates over who is conservative and who isn't, over whether Craddick could still win or couldn't, and over whether they could stand the prospect of working with Jim Dunnam, that they missed obvious fact that Straus was the member of the House who could best protect their majority—and Craddick was the worst. You know who figured it out? Dan Branch. He's from Highland Park. He understands the power of aristocracy.

It's easy to get so caught up in the maneuvering of the House that you miss the big picture. It happened to me; my first reaction to the naming of Straus was that the ABCs had blown it, because he didn't have a following, while Burt Solomons did. That was stupid of me. I forgot to read my own writing. I had been saying for weeks that whoever the chosen one turned out to be had 64 Democrats and 11+ Republicans and there was nothing Craddick or any other Republican could do about it. A speaker's race is like "Field of Dreams": Build it and they will come. The coalition was built; it just took awhile for the Republicans to come.

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