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A Time to Keel

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Tom Craddick’s decision to name Terry Keel as House parliamentarian was a signal–if anybody needed one–that Craddick’s governing style in 2009, assuming that he retains his position, will be hardball all the way. Keel’s mastery of the rules is not in question, but he is a political gut-fighter and a 100 percent Craddick loyalist. This kind of relationship is not unprecedented for a presiding officer and parliamentarian; nobody was closer to Bob Bullock than Bob Johnson. But Johnson had the seasoning and the judgment and the temperament to serve both the chair and the body. Keel (with an assist from Ron Wilson) has already shown that he will go to unprecedented lengths to protect Craddick. The only surprise about Keel’s appointment was that it came so soon. Members who are wavering about whether to support Craddick due to their concerns over Keel’s ruling that Craddick has the right to refuse to recognize any member, even for a privileged motion, might be further alienated by Keel’s elevation to permanent status.

Meanwhile, Craddick must decide how to go about retaining his post. His greatest strength is not among the membership but among the big donors and activists at the state and local level (SREC members, county chairs, precinct chairs, conservative organizations). They see him as the true standardbearer for conservatives, moreso than Perry, and Dewhurst isn’t even on the scoreboard. They will undoubtedly be mobilized to put pressure on their local representatives. Another option that was mentioned to me by a lobbyist is that Craddick will ask committee chairs and others in positions of prominence to sign pledge cards, and those who do not sign will not retain their positions. I cannot confirm that this is going to happen, just that it is option, and a risk-laden option at that. Craddick has enough enemies already. He doesn’t need to create more.

Apparently Craddick is being deluged with suggestions. This is amusing, because no one understands how to run a speaker’s race better than Craddick himself. No one has a deeper understanding of the proclivities and pressure points of individual members. If I were close to Tom Craddick, the person I would want to make the decision is Tom Craddick. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a replay of the 2002 elections, with Mike Toomey as an active participant in the campaign. In the end, I think Craddick holds onto his job. Does he have the votes today? No. But money, power, and political talent usually prevail in this business, and the only thing standing in his way is the spongy backbone of individual House members. Not a fair fight.

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