On March 4, Texans will cast their votes in party primaries for offices from, as the saying goes, the courthouse to the White House. For the first time in more than thirty years, Texas is situated to play a pivotal role in selecting the next president. The primaries are going to generate a level of excitement in politics that most Texans have never experienced. But another office, one that is not even officially on the ballot, will be in play that day: Speaker of the House. In a way, the speaker’s race works like a mini—electoral college. Voters don’t choose the leader of the Texas House of Representatives, but they do choose the people who choose the leader: the 150 House members. Normally, speaker’s races take place out of public view, but not this time. From the moment last May that Tom Craddick claimed the absolute power to refuse to recognize a motion to remove him from the chair, it was foreordained that the up or down vote on his reelection would take place at the ballot box.
Inside the bubble that surrounds the Texas political world, the speaker’s race looms larger than the presidential race. At stake is not just the speakership but also partisan control of the House and, for some veteran lawmakers, the fleeting possibility of a return to the days when a tradition of civil debate prevailed in the chamber instead of an atmosphere that crackles each day with hostility. After three tumultuous sessions, no one can