“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