L’etat C’est Craddick — et Le GOP Aussi
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When Speaker Craddick asserted at the end of the 2007 legislative session that (1) the House did not have the power to remove him as speaker because he was an officer of the state and could only be removed by impeachment; and (2) in any event, he was empowered under House rules to refuse to recognize any member seeking to make a privileged motion to remove him, his claim to absolute power echoed the boast of Louis XIV of France: l’etat c’est moi. “I am the state.” Now, fighting to salvage his speakership (and doing pretty well at it) with speeches to Republican groups, Craddick is making a similar claim to be the embodiment of the Republican party: A Craddick loss is a victory for the Democrats and their trial lawyer allies. This was the lead to R. G. Ratcliffe’s story in Sunday’s Chronicle:
As he seeks to retain his leadership post, House Speaker Tom Craddick is pounding home a partisan message in his public appearances that portrays Republican legislators who oppose him as aiding and abetting the Democrats.
In speeches to Republican gatherings and civic groups, Craddick characterizes himself as the keeper of GOP ideals in Austin and warns that efforts to prevent him from winning a fourth term are being driven by trial lawyers who want to undo lawsuit restrictions.
Craddick is indefatigable. Relentless. Totally focused. His opponents have not yet grasped that they will have to match his ferocity if they are to have a chance to defeat him. But there is one big flaw in the Craddick message. For someone who presents himself as a savior for the Republican Party, he has done more harm to the party than anyone. The Republicans held an 88-62 majority when he first took the oath of office as speaker. Today that margin is down to 80-70. Under his direction, House Republicans lost six seats in the 2006 election and defeated zero Democratic incumbents. He arm-twisted Todd Baxter, of Austin, into casting so many votes that were anathema to his constituents that Baxter became unelectable and resigned to become a lobbyist. The seat is now held by Democrat Donna Howard. Other Craddick loyalists fell in Republican primaries: Kent Grusendorf and Elvira Reyna (both of them committee chairs). Another chairman, Talmadge Heflin (Appropriations) lost in 2004. Craddick has been poison for Democrats who supported him: Ron Wilson, Glenn Lewis, and Al Edwards. Several more Craddick Ds face major opposition in 2008.
“A divided Republican Party is a Democratic win,” Craddick told one audience, according to Ratcliffe, who cited an earlier Dallas Morning News story. But no one has divided the party more than Craddick. Although he claims to support all Republican incumbents–yeah, right–his opponents in the House GOP ranks by unfortunate coincidence seem to draw lavishly funded primary opponents. In 2006, Craddick’s longtime ally, James Leininger, spent around $3 million in just five legislative races involving Craddick critics and defeated two, Carter Casteel and Roy Blake Jr. This year, with Craddick’s speakership on the line, he has little choice but to try to purge his enemies. He has the right to defend himself. He just ought to own up to doing it.
It’s important to understand what really happened in 2006. Yes, it was a bad year for Republicans nationally. But the Republican losses here were not merely a case of the Bush blues. Craddick was partly responsible for those losses. He tried to force school vouchers through the House. His on-the-record criticism of superintendents as “greedy” epitomized his attitude toward public education. He insisted that every dollar of new money in the education budget be earmarked for tax relief: no new money for the schools. Education supporters organized Texas Parent PAC to try to influence House races. The organization made endorsements in Republican and Democratic primary races and the general election, with their biggest victory being the defeat of Grusendorf. In short, through his hostility to the public schools, Craddick created, out of thin air, a large and active constituency against himself and his drink-the-Koolaid members. It is true that some of the races that pro-Craddick candidates lost were very close, and others involved members who had made some dumb mistakes. It doesn’t matter. Excuses are for losers. It happened on his watch, during a campaign in which he was hands-on, and he was zero and six. If the Republicans are worried about losing their majority, they should be thinking about whether they are better off with him as speaker–or without him.