Nobody but Craddick

“IF YOU’RE GOING TO SHOOT THE KING, you’d better kill the king.” That’s what famous blogger and occasional journalist Paul Burka, our senior executive editor, told me on the phone the morning of Saturday, December 23, as I was huffing and puffing between sets of tennis. He had called to say that the rumors we had both heard were true: Brian McCall, a Republican state representative from Plano, was prepared to challenge Tom Craddick in the upcoming vote for Speaker of the House. Burka’s point was that no matter how well respected or well spoken or well versed in policy McCall might be, Craddick is formidable bordering on scary, not only the sort of person people never bet against but someone seemingly at peace with the concept of revenge. Merely wounding him wouldn’t do—not if McCall or any of his supporters hoped to have a future in politics.

It is easy to see now, in hindsight, that McCall’s move was folly, just as Waxahachie Republican Jim Pitts’s decision to take them both on, and later to combine McCall’s pledges and his own, was never going anyplace. But for a few brief moments that day, and in the weeks before and after New Year’s, there was genuine excitement in the air. There hadn’t been a Speaker’s race this serious in more than thirty years. And was it really possible that Craddick could be toppled? Only four years ago, political junkies were marveling at his rapid ascent, although in truth it wasn’t so rapid: three decades in the minority party, biding his time and plotting, until the Republicans finally took over, in 2003. Only two years ago, we put him on our cover and named him the most powerful Texan. And yet here he was, at risk of being relegated once again to the backbench—not because the Democrats regained majority control, as happened to the Speaker of the U.S. House, but because enough of his fellow R’s had tired of his autocratic leadership style and might be willing to toss him over the side.

What did we learn from this fascinating episode? Read Burka’s column to find out what he thinks (see “ Animal House ,”). Here’s what I think:

First, Craddick is exactly who we thought he was: an incredibly tough guy with at least a few more lives in him than the rest of us. While it was premature to pronounce him “toast,” as some (ahem) in the Capitol community did, he was in trouble for a few days there. And then he fought his way out of it. Gotta admire his survival skills.

Second, the Democrats are unbelievably lame: the fabled gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Presented with the Anybody but Craddick they were hoping for, they waffled and whined and allowed themselves to be divided—and therefore conquered. One-party rule (not their party) lives to see another day.

Third, the media, as much as anyone or anything, drove the story. Several days in a row I had members of the Lege calling me to ask what I knew, since they were in the dark but we weren’t (or thought we weren’t). Part of it was that our reporting was indeed good, but mostly we were so starved for action, and have been for some time in a state with practically no competitive elections, that we created phony momentum based entirely on wishful thinking.

Finally, the bloggers—yes, including Burka—really showed they deserve a place at the table. Even more than the old-media fuddies in the Capitol press corps, they broke news, spun with style, and made themselves into must-reads. And they’ll surely continue to be this session, now that the once and future king king has reclaimed his throne.

Next Month

George W. Bush’s legacy, the state of gay adoption, one- hit wonders, the New London school explosion, Ray Price, how to cook like a cowgirl, and the last classy beauty queen.reclaimed his throne.

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