TEXAS MONTHLY asked each of the candidates for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to submit statements on why they think they should hold the highly coveted gavel. Here’s what they had to say.
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Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland:
The Texas House of Representatives can point to many accomplishments since I was elected Speaker. We passed tort reform legislation that lowered medical malpractice insurance costs and attracted more doctors to Texas. We passed business tax reforms to lower property taxes and increase the state’s share in paying for education.
When I became Speaker, we faced a $10 billion deficit, which in five short years we turned into a $14 billion surplus. We did this without raising taxes, and we continue to have a surplus despite difficult economic times. These have all been contentious issues, and many members have strong feelings about what we have accomplished—but our actions reflect the will of most Texans.
I have continued a tradition of a bipartisan legislature. I have given record numbers of minorities and women positions of power, and I have done my best to allow the will of the House to prevail.
With nearly equal parity between the political parties in the House, I understand the need for us to seek a consensus on the major issues facing the eighty-first legislature. The House needs experienced leadership now more than ever, and I strongly believe I am the best person for the job.
Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine:
I am running for Speaker of the House because I believe (1) the most important thing a member of the House has is his or her vote; and (2) the House works most effectively when the entire body is engaged in thoughtful deliberation rather than merely acting as a rubber stamp for an autocratic Speaker.
Over the past few sessions, the term “owner’s box” has been used to apply to a small section of the gallery where the Speaker’s mega-donors and lobbyists sit to watch and sometimes direct proceedings on the House floor. I am running for Speaker of the House because the “owner’s box” should have but one set of owners: the people of Texas.
A member of the Texas House should be allowed to exercise his or her own discretion when deciding on public policy. Members with certain key talents and expertise should be allowed to lead—rather than languish in exile because their opinion is different from the leadership’s opinion. Legislation should be written by committees and improved by floor action—not dictated on high by instructions from the Speaker’s office.
The Speaker should be but the first among equals. Power should be dispersed through the membership—not consolidated in the Speaker’s office. Committee chairs must be allowed to work with their members to come up with ideas, and they must have the latitude needed to negotiate effectively.
The Speaker’s job is to serve the members—not the other way around. Unfortunately, the current Speaker has not hesitated to sacrifice individual members if it served his political interests. This is a huge disservice to members. And the citizens of Texas are disenfranchised when a Speaker treats the public’s representatives like they are his private employees he can hire, fire, reward, or punish on a whim.
For the past six years, the people’s interest has taken a back seat to special interests, as these mega-donors and lobbyists have exercised undue influence on both public policy and the political process. Members of the House are routinely forced to cast votes that are not in the best interests of the State of Texas or the constituents they serve. It is because of this that a 26-vote Republican majority has been whittled down to a slim 2-vote margin.
The House floor should be a place where good ideas are made better, and the best idea wins—regardless of whose idea it was. No results should be preordained. Members will be asked only to represent their districts and vote their conscience. By allowing members to act, unhindered by partisanship, mandates from the Speaker’s office, or undue influence from special interests, the people of Texas will be the real winners. The Texas House will once again be a place where talent, ability, and work ethic are rewarded rather than punished.
Further, the rules of procedure used in the Texas House should matter. Rules are incredibly important and should be applied fairly and consistently. They should not be manipulated to implement a preordained conclusion. Rules protect the majority, they protect the minority, and they protect the electorate. Rules are not made to be broken—they are meant to be followed.
When I look into the eyes of my son, I see hope and a bright future. I know that those of us honored to serve in the Texas House can make the hopes and dreams of Texas families come true if only we can rise above the selfishness and petty politics of the past.
I never expected to have the honor of serving in the Texas House. My service has taught me to love and appreciate the institution of the House, and I want to see it flourish again. I want it to again be a place where representatives from every district across Texas can realize their potential, serve their constituents, and contribute to our incredible democracy.
I love Texas and want it to be better—that’s why I am running for Speaker.
Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston:
If I have the honor of becoming Speaker of the Texas House, here’s how I would want to be graded:
1) Did I listen to members, or did I spend all my time telling them what I think? A successful Speaker listens, and even learns a thing or two.
2) Did I give members the fullest opportunity to represent their districts and lead our state, including senior members and freshmen, “ins” and “outs,” friends and foes? Representing one’s district means different things to different members (see number one). It may mean taking a leadership role on a committee that a member’s constituents care about, having the opportunity to help craft the budget, or for some, excelling at killing bills that their constituents oppose. At minimum, it means that everyone has access to the front mike to present their agenda if they can convince the relevant committees and that members are free to cast votes they can defend at home.
3) Did I recognize that the House will be either in a partisan tie or very close to a tie, and that the voters have decided that the parties must share power? That means allowing leaders recognized by both sides to work together toward consensus on major legislation.
4) Was I willing to lose a vote when the House so decided, or lose a bill for a few days on the calendar when the rules required that a point of order be sustained? Or, even better, was I willing to negotiate through such deadlocks to keep the process on track? (again, see number one)
5) Did I fight for the will of the House when engaging the Senate and the governor?
6) Did I make sure that we stayed focused on issues of importance for the future of the state, and did I do my best to avoid spending members’ time and energy on wedge bills designed to put members on the spot or to build political records?
7) Did I try my hardest to set an example of trust, honesty, and integrity that allowed other members to be respected for doing the same and allowed the House to be respected for its decisions?
8) Did I respect members’ time and physical well-being, and that of the public, by starting on time and avoiding repeated late-night marathons except if absolutely necessary?
9) (Double Points) Service in the House will always contain elements of frustration, exhaustion, and the challenges of being away from one’s family, friends, and occupation. Did members go home at the end of the session feeling that their effort was worth the sacrifice (at least after a few weeks to rest up), and did the people of Texas agree? Or did the members and the people of Texas feel that we all, just as well, could have gone fishing?
No session is easy, and this one shows all the signs of more than average challenges. Our slowing economy comes at a time when we face growing challenges in education, transportation, health care, criminal justice—you name it—all the while continuing to rebuild after Ike. While it’s not government’s job to “solve” everything, we clearly have more than enough work to keep us busy.
If elected Speaker, I know I will need to make the best use of the wisdom, talents, and good will of all 149 other members working together to move Texas forward. I ask for that opportunity.
Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock
My Qualifications for Speaker:
• Served fourteen regular sessions
• Twent-five special sessions
• On fifty or more committees
• As chairman of re-districting two times
Served on Committees:
• State Affairs
• Agriculture, Chairman
• Corrections, Vice Chairman
• House Administration
• And numerous other committees
My Goals if Elected Speaker:
1) Establish a bipartisan legislative House of Representatives
2) Appoint members to committees based off experience and qualifications
3) Allow each House member to represent his or her House District freely
4) Work in cooperation with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and other state officials for the best interest of the people of Texas
5) Cooperate with the federal government to make our border with Mexico more secure
Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland:
During the past eighteen months, I have traveled across Texas visiting with individual Texas House Republicans and Democrats in their respective districts. My Speaker platform calls for restoring bipartisanship and parliamentarian rules to the business of the Texas House. Furthermore, I will respect the right of all members to be heard from the House floor, and I will respect seniority requests for committee appointments.
I will also sign a five-point ethics reform pledge to honor a three-term Speaker term limit; to ban direct and indirect contributions from the Speaker in elections against sitting members of the Legislature; to end the practice of special interest groups and lobbyists meeting with House members in the Speaker’s office during floor debate; to not choose lobbyists or political consultants to serve on my transition team; and to not use the appropriations bill to reward patronage.
I have served as a chairman or vice chairman under both a Democrat and Republican House Speaker. I have endured the horrendous and hate-mongering attacks of vicious third party groups such as FREE PAC in 2002. I am both a proud Republican and respectful bipartisan colleague. I have also stood up to the governor when he offered legislation such as the split roll tax bill in 2005 and over-reached on his executive order for the mandatory HPV vaccination in 2007. In turn, I worked with the governor and bipartisan groups last year when I traveled Texas and helped win statewide voter approval of our new state constitutional amendment for state funding of cancer research.
Most important, I believe that the Speaker should lead by example at all times and has a duty to preserve and protect a member-driven system of governing the Texas House. As Speaker, I will work to restore the integrity of the institution by providing an atmosphere of trust, where the members can work for their constituents and the House can work for Texas.
Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview:
“[M]any of us without shoes and our property gone, we were naturally eager for the fight, knowing that nothing but victory could save us . . .”—Captain Jesse Billingsley, 1st Commander, 1st Regiment, Texas Army, just prior to the Battle of San Jacinto.
I am a proud descendent of Captain Billingsley, who not only fought courageously at the Battle of San Jacinto, but is also widely credited with first shouting the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo.” That spirit for doing the right thing above all else has been handed down to me.
I am a twelve-year Republican veteran of the Texas House of Representatives representing District 7 in Northeast Texas, and I am a candidate for Speaker of the House.
My platform is simple. Under my leadership, the Texas House will be an open body where each member works the floor, works the committees, and is allowed to express views of support or dissatisfaction for a bill. I will diligently work to make sure each member’s views are respected, regardless of party or political leaning. Like all Americans who cast their votes privately in the ballot box, members of the House will cast their votes for Speaker privately so that they do not have to face retaliation for voting against the winner.
I will continue demonstrating my leadership approach by supporting all incumbent members of the House, going to their districts when invited, regardless of party or politics. My successes in the Legislature have come from reaching across party lines. Every accomplishment I have achieved has been the result of working with all House members. I will work with the House to eliminate the huge special interest dollars flowing into the Speaker’s political slush fund, freeing members from undue pressure from special interests and lobbyists. As Speaker, I will not have a Speaker’s Political Action Committee.
I will return to the non-political days when the House Parliamentarian and the Executive Director of the Legislative Council were nonpartisan and non-political staff who provided the same level of impartial and professional service to all members of the House. I will reinstate an Office of Bill Analysis that is independent and in no way hamstrung by political wishes or whims.
The last time this House met, quite frankly, we could have done better for our constituents. We must change leadership to improve the effectiveness of the House. I am concerned that without a change in leadership at the beginning of the eighty-first session, divisions will grow deeper, rifts will further distance us from the well-being of this great state, and an ugliness will settle in that ill suits this House and the people we were sent here to represent. No one wants Texas to be like Washington, D.C.
I am a loyal Republican, a vocal Republican, and a faithful Republican who is not afraid to stand with my party when we are in the right, even if the right is sometimes unpopular. I have and will continue to clearly state my opposition to our Republican leaders when they are in the wrong.
I am proud of my conservative record. I demonstrated leadership in the committee and on the House floor to garner bipartisan support for a parental notification law. I co-authored a measure that gave free tuition to the children of totally disabled veterans and another measure to allow the Bible to be taught as an elective in our public schools.
That said, when the governor tried to force every teenage girl in Texas to be injected with the HPV vaccine, I said “no” and co-authored a bill to make sure that parents—not the state—retain the right to make medical decisions for their own children.
As the next Speaker of the House, I will first serve this state with an even hand and second, help the constituents who sent me here by working for what they so desperately need back home. Unlike the current regime, as Speaker I will not punish the hard-working Texans in a member’s district just because that member does not see eye-to-eye with me.
Under my leadership, we will replace pie-in-the-sky projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor with an aggressive plan to once again make Texas freeways and highways the envy of the nation.
The education of our children will no longer get mere lip service with lowering standards to improve passing rates. Instead, our children will be taught in a way that will allow them to acquire the jobs they will need once they enter the workforce. We will train and educate our children to earn the good-paying jobs they need and deserve to make this state’s future even brighter.
When state government shows even the slightest surplus, we will return that money to its owners—the taxpayers. The Rainy Day fund is the taxpayer’s insurance policy against catastrophes, and as a conservative Speaker, I will not let it be drained for pet projects.
And finally, as Speaker, I will shoot straight with the people who sent us here. When we promise something, we are going to deliver. No more fake insurance rate reductions. No more fake, antiquated appraisals. No more fake property tax cuts. No more! Under my leadership, the eighty-first legislature will tackle education, appraisal reform, transportation, and repeal of the business margin tax.
What we can deliver, we will, and we must under my speakership. What we can’t, we will explain to the people and let them be the judge. I have great confidence in the members of the House, and they will, with God’s grace, demonstrate to the people of Texas a reason to have greater confidence in their government.
After the Battle of San Jacinto, Captain Billingsley wrote: “On that day was born on a nation of freemen. Who was instrumental in producing so glorious an event, let a discerning world say.” The challenge before us today, is to make sure Captain Billingsley’s love for freedom lives on.
Rep. Alan Ritter, D-Nederland:
I am running for Speaker for one reason—to restore the tradition that the Speaker represents all the members, not just a few.
Lately we have seen repeated abuse of House rules to accommodate a narrow partisan agenda. As Speaker, I would make sure that every member has an opportunity to represent his or her district and participate in the process.
I want to return power to the House members so that the House could remove a sitting Speaker for a loss of confidence in the Speaker’s leadership. I would also restore the seniority system to reduce the Speaker’s control over key committee assignments, open the Calendars process to make it fair and accessible to all House members, and return control of the flow of legislation to committee chairs and their committee members.
Members on both sides of the aisle tell me that they believe the current House leadership has disenfranchised members. I will reopen the process so that my colleagues can work in a bipartisan way to find solutions to the tough problems Texas faces.
The notion that a Speaker—a person elected as a state representative from a Texas city like Houston, Midland, or Nederland—gets elevated to be a state constitutional official is absurd and reckless.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston:
Two sessions ago, I embarked upon a campaign to inspire and transform the Texas House of Representatives. I have served under the leadership of five speakers and, as one of the most senior members of the Legislature, I have gained a great depth of knowledge and experience. But above all this, I have friends on both sides of the aisle, and I know how to build consensus. When I ran for Speaker in 2004, it was considered a dangerous thing to do; I was not afraid then, and I am not afraid now.
I have participated in every fight for the right issues, because I know that the freedoms of our constituents are lost unless fought for. The members of the House can count on me for support of their ideas and their legislation. We all have something to offer the citizens of this great state, and when all of us are given a chance to add to the discussion, the winners are the citizens of Texas.
It is time that the Texas House of Representatives stopped being divisive and started acting like a cohesive body of government again. It is the Speaker’s responsibility to establish trust among all members and maintain civility, and this is exactly what I intend to do.
As Speaker of the Texas House I will work to:
• Create an inclusive environment, so that every member can participate in the Democratic process and work on behalf of the interest of their constituents.
• Keep the pertinent issues facing Texas today salient in the minds of all members because we must not let our past differences and old grudges hinder our responsibilities to the people of Texas.
• Make the necessary adjustments to the House Rules so that we can avoid confusion and misinterpretation.
• Cultivate a staff that will promote the rules and procedures of the House so that they serve every member fairly and to the best of their abilities.
I firmly believe that when the House is functioning at its best we are greater than the sum of our parts. I ask all the members to join me in fighting the good fight for the conscience and the dignity of the Texas House. The citizens of this great state deserve no less, and it is incumbent that we, as elected officials, work toward this end. Together, in January, we will have a better House and, the day after that, a better Texas.
Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston:
I have had the honor of working with three different Speakers and each had his own style. I have been in leadership positions under a Democratic Speaker as well as a Republican Speaker. I have witnessed the Legislature at its very best and have been a member of the Legislature when we could have functioned better. I have been a member when the House had a Democratic majority, and I have witnessed the change in power to a Republican majority. Throughout my twenty years in the House, I can say without hesitation that there are very capable and competent leaders in both parties; that these leaders come from urban and rural Texas; that when given an opportunity to showcase their talents and represent their districts, Texas as a whole is made better; that when we as members are mindful of our responsibility to maintain the dignity and integrity of the Texas House (the People’s House), we can disagree with reason and passion and yet find ways to reach a consensus for the greater good of Texas.
I believe members have every right to represent their districts while being mindful that we must also consider what is in Texas’s best interest. I believe we can disagree in committee and on the floor of the Texas House but those disagreements should be based on policy and other pertinent facts and not personality. I believe the seniority system should be honored and respected but the Speaker must make every effort to include, encourage, and develop the talents and gifts of less experienced members. Good ideas, leadership, and ability should be recognized and used. I believe the needs of every geographical region of this state must be considered, and legislators from those regions should be included in the leadership make-up of the Texas House. I believe the Texas House works best when we govern from the center.
Lastly, I have been Speaker Pro Tem since 2003. Since 1993, I have served on the Appropriations, Calendars, and State Affairs (now Regulated Industries) committees all at the same time. I have been Vice-Chair of Calendars, Vice-Chair of State Affairs, and Sub-Committee Chair of Criminal Justice and the Judiciary on the Appropriations Committee. In my twenty years in the Texas House, I have worked with and developed close relationships with members regardless of party affiliation or geography. When asked to preside over the chamber, I have done my best to maintain the order of the House and to treat members with the utmost respect and courtesy while getting the job done for the people of the State of Texas. I offer myself as a candidate for Speaker, and respect each member’s right to choose.