House Republican caucus chair Frank Corte has called out his Democratic counterpart, Jim Dunnam, for the statement Dunnam issued in reaction to attorney general Greg Abbott’s ruling on issues concerning the powers and immunities of the Speaker of the House. Here is Dunnam’s statement of December 14:

“No one should be surprised by Greg Abbott’s ruling. From the start, many other Texans and I expressed concern that the financial ties between Abbott and Craddick raise serious doubts about the fairness and independence of the opinion process. They are wed at the hip by the same donors, and the public record makes that clear (according to the Ethics Commission, they have taken more than $13.6 million in combined contributions from sources that gave $2,500 or more to each man). Unfortunately, Texas’ current Republican leadership puts allegiance to one another over the fundamentals of democracy. The result is what anyone would expect from the legacy of Tom DeLay politics.

“Beneath the tortured legal reasoning is this fundamental fact: Greg Abbott threw a lifeline to his ally Tom Craddick. Craddick’s lawyers concocted the notion that the Speaker serves a fixed two-year term and the Speaker that House members elect cannot be removed without Senate permission—-what a joke. Now, his political partner Greg Abbott has backed up that ridiculous claim. They hope this AG Opinion will prevent any honest debate of the dictatorial and undemocratic methods we have come to expect. In that hope, they are wrong.

“No person with a common sense understanding of the fundamentals in our country, much less a trained lawyer, can condone Abbott’s opinion that Craddick should have the absolute power of a Tito, Mussolini or Stalin. If Greg Abbott really believes that, then we need a new Attorney General.

“Tom Craddick’s refusal to let members vote on his removal was the ultimate in political cowardice. Abbott’s silence regarding Craddick’s refusal to recognize members for that debate shows an equal lack of spine. As many work to ensure the rights of free men and women are available around the world, and as Texans are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan right now for those rights, it is regrettable that those same rights are absent in the Texas House, and that Greg Abbott condones that.

“The ruling means one thing: Texans must vote for representatives who will elect new leadership for the Texas House in January 2009.”

My reaction, then and now, is that Dunnam’s statement is hysterical — not ha-ha hysterical, but losing-it hysterical. Did Dunnam actually think that this rant could persuade anyone? He’s a lawyer. If he thought the opinion was wrong, he should have taken issue with it as a lawyer. Instead, he went off on an ultra-leftist tirade out of the era of The Grapes of Wrath: money, corruption, Tito, Mussolini, Stalin, men are fighting and dying for the rights Greg Abbott has denied us. This is the sort of thing that caused an observant junior Democrat to tell me, during the 2007 session, “Dunnam took a caucus of 69 and turned it into a caucus of 40.”

Here is Corte’s response:

Once again you have failed to put Texans first. Your news release concerning Attorney General Greg Abbott’s opinion that confirmed the rules of the Texas House of Representatives was simply a negative and hate filled partisan swipe that has become standard fare for you. The Marxist Morality ploy you have attempted to engage in won’t play in Texas and you know it.

I was even more appalled at the personal attack you leveled at our Attorney General Greg Abbott. The intended and malicious reference that he lacked a spine because he is confined to a wheel-chair has even you stooping to a new level.

You are a personal injury trial lawyer that understands that words matter, and yet you continue and will continue to degenerate the political dialogue in your quest for power over people. Instead of engaging in an open conversation about renewable energy, higher education, illegal immigration or fighting to help hard working families keep more of what they earn, you use partisan and personal attacks to mask the fact that you work to oppress Texans instead of helping them.

As a member of the Texas House of Representatives, I am asking you to take responsibility for your deliberate poor choice of words and issue a formal apology to Attorney General Greg Abbott, because in Texas, character still counts.
May your better angels prevail this Christmas season.

Corte’s letter to Dunnam of December 19 has its share of excessive political rhetoric, but the descriptions of a “negative and hate filled partisan swipe” and “Marxist Morality ploy” are on target. And while I doubt that Dunnam deliberately intended to make a word play on Abbott’s confinement to a wheelchair, his remarks were so intemperate that Corte had reason to suggest otherwise.

Dunnam is playing a very big game for very high stakes, and, in this instance at least, he did not play it very well. So what if Abbott’s opinion sided with Craddick? The goal is not to remove Craddick during the 2009 session. The goal is to defeat him for reelection as speaker, after which the victors can rewrite the rules, rendering Abbott’s opinion moot. For that to happen, Democrats and disaffected Republicans are going to have to make common cause. The more Dunnam acts like a union organizer in a company town, the less Republicans are going to want to be part of a coalition in which he will play a major role. Dunnam should think about turning over the Democratic caucus to someone who can facilitate the transition.