I don’t want to get hysterical about what happened in the House Friday night. It was not the end of democracy as we know it. It was not a coup d’etat. It was just the end of any pretense that Tom Craddick is influenced by a normal sense of right and wrong. With the help of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the new ventriloquists, Craddick engineered an astonishing power grab. The rulings last night effectively raised the threshhold for removing a speaker from a simple majority to two-thirds. This was achieved by asserting that the speaker has the power to refuse to recognize any member, including one who seeks to raise a question of privilege. With the sweeping aside of all precedents regarding privileged motions, the new parliamentarians were free to declare that the only way to vacate the chair was through Aricle 3, Section 11 of the Texas Constitution:
RULES OF PROCEDURE; EXPULSION OF MEMBER. Each House may dtermine the rules of its own proceedings, punish members for disorderly conduct, and, with the consent of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offence.
When the insurgents tried to appeal the ruling of the chair, Craddick refused to recognize them for that purpose. When they tried to appeal the refusal of recognition, he invoked Article 5, Section 24 of the House rules to say that his refusal was nonappealable. This may have been the only thing he said during the entire debate that represented normal practice:
Sec. 24. RECOGNITION. There shall be no appeal from the speaker’s recognition, but the speaker shall be governed by rules and usage in priority of entertaining motions from the floor. When a member seeks recognition, the speaker may ask, “For what purpose does the member seek recognition?” and may then decide if recognition is to be granted.
All this tortured reasoning was necessary to get around the clear and unambiguous language in Article 14, Section 1 of the House Rules:
WHEN THE RULES ARE SILENT. If the rules are silent or inexplicit on any question of order or parliamentary practice, the Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, and its practice as reflected in published precedents, and Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure shall be construed as authority.
These sources explicitly provide for vacating the chair by majority vote.
I know that this is bad form, but I hope readers will forgive me for saying, “I told you so.” This from from my posting, “Motion Sickness,” of May 18.
The operative question is whether congressional precedents carry any weight in the Texas Legislature. I can envision a situation in which a member of the Resistance goes to the back microphone to raise a matter of privilege to declare the chair vacant, and the speaker responds that the House rules have no provision for such a procedure and the member is not recognized. The member refers to the congressional precedent and the speaker says that the House is not bound by congressional precedent …. Then what? Does the Resistance challenge the ruling of the chair? Or perhaps the Resistance files a resolution and Craddick declines to accept it on the grounds that the rules are silent on the subject. Pandemonium will break out.
I believe that these questions will be answered on the floor of the House before sine die.
I just never dreamed what the answers would be.