Last McCall
Sun November 15, 2009 9:20 am

I am sad to see the news that Brian McCall has decided not to run for reelection. Brian made the House better just by his presence. He was the gold standard for how a legislator should conduct himself. When he had a bill on the calendar, he put on a clinic about how to pass legislation, with clear explanations and irrefutable policy arguments. His integrity was spotless. His respect for the legislative process was total.

Next to his character, what he will be most remembered for is his opposition to Tom Craddick. McCall was a charter member of the ABCs, the once sizeable cadre of Republican members whose choice for speaker was "Anybody But Craddick." When Craddick was running for speaker in 2002, McCall sent a letter to his colleagues foretelling the dark side of a Craddick speakership. It proved to be prescient. In 2006, Republicans lost five seats in the November elections, and McCall decided to challenge Craddick's reelection. But a rapid Craddick counteroffensive turned three key McCall pledges, and he eventually bowed out in favor of Jim Pitts. Craddick went on to win his third term after the key vote -- whether the speaker should be elected by secret ballot -- went his way by a narrow margin.

Readers know the rest of the story. The 2007 session was one of the most tumultuous in memory. Craddick lost effective control of the House, and his frantic efforts to hold onto power, including firing the House parliamentarians and obtaining a new ruling that he could not be removed during the session, only turned more members agaisnt him, including several of his own committee chairs. Those were amazing days; we will never see anything like them in our time.

Through it all, McCall never wavered in his belief that Craddick could not be reelected. Neither, however, could MCCall. As the ABCs met to choose their candidate for speaker on January 2, McCall had filed papers to run, but his moment had come and gone. As the ABCs took successive ballots to drop the low vote getters, McCall did not make it to the final round. Still, as the story goes, it was his vote for Straus that determined who the next speaker would be.
While there are no doubt many reasons for McCall's decision to retire from the House, I believe that the closing of the door on his dream to be speaker must have played a part.

McCall went on to serve as Straus's chairman of Calendars. a position from which he could enforce fairness for members of both parties, so that Republicans and Democrats, and combatants in the 07 and 09 speaker's races, could feel they had an equal chance of getting their bills to the floor, without personalities or political loyalties. He played an essential role in calming waters that are too often roiled, and his performance earned him a place on the Ten Best list. His departure is a real loss.

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