The time has come for Tom Craddick to resign as Speaker of the House.
He is losing the war. The body armor he supplies to his troops in political warfare–money money money–is ineffective against the enemy’s ideological fervor for better public schools. The more he flouts his assets–James Leininger, Bob Perry–the more the enemy regards him as a symbol of decadence and is determined to rise up against him. He is responsible for the largest casualty rate his troops have suffered in decades.
This is as far as the metaphor can stretch. After all, Republicans won every statewide race. Republican congressional incumbents won every race but one, in the 23rd district, where Henry Bonilla was forced into a runoff in a special election. All Republican state senators were reelected. None of these races was close. But the loss of five House seats is more than a minor annoyance. It reduces the Republican majority to a mere six seats and makes it more difficult for Republicans to pass programs like school vouchers.
Craddick must be held accountable for these losses. He is not the sole cause, of course. The sour national mood toward Republicans did affect Texas. If nothing else, it reduced the turnout (which was down by around 300,000 compared to the last gubernatorial election in 2002). That had to have an impact on several races–Jim Landtroop versus Joe Heflin, Gene Seaman versus Juan Garcia, Tim Kleinschmidt versus Robbie Cook, Bill Keffer versus Allen Vaught– where Republicans lost by small margins. But the larger picture is that the Republicans didn’t defeat a single Democratic incumbent. They didn’t pick up a single open seat, which has been their forte in their rise to power. And Craddick must shoulder some of the blame. On the most important issue in Texas politics, public education, he has been consistently hostile to the wishes of the education community, and he has twisted arms to get his members to cast votes that are dangerous for Republicans (against special funding for gifted and talented programs, for example, and in favor of school vouchers). He has attacked superintendents as a group and ostracized a former superintendent turned legislator named Bob Griggs for speaking out against school finance legislation that educators opposed. He roused the politically somnambulent education community to get organized and ultimately defeat Kent Grusendorf, Craddick’s chairman for public education. He turned down Grusendorf’s entreaties to add more money for education to make the bill more attractive. Kent Grusdendorf’s blood is on Tom Craddick’s hands. Not only has the education community become organized, but so has a bipartisan group named Texas Parent PAC, which endorsed pro-education candidates in both the primaries and the general election, with considerable success. While he says publicly that he supports all Republican incumbents in primary elections, those who suddenly found their opponents lavishly funded by vouchers advocate Leininger last spring don’t believe it for a moment.
The belief of many members on both sides of the aisle is that Craddick does not care about individual members. He has been around so long (since 1969) and seen so many members pass through that what drives him is not love for the institution of the House or friendship with its members, but rather the conservative ideology and his ties to prominent Republicans and longtime friends outside the Capitol. He has created his own opposition.
While many members speculate about a speaker’s race, it is easier to speculate than act. Republicans still have the majority. Craddick unquestionably still has the support of the major players in the Republican party. Democrats can deliver fifty to sixty votes for a challenger to Craddick without fear of retribution, but the twenty-five to thirty Republicans who must defect from Craddick in order to make a challenge successful have to worry not only what happens in case they lose but also what happens in case they win: Will the entire apparatus of the state party turn against them in the next primary election for making common cause with Democrats? I don’t think a challenge will be successful. The history of speaker’s races is that it is easy to get to 50 votes but hard as hell to get to 76.
Craddick should spare his colleagues the pain. He has failed in his number-one duty as speaker, which is to protect his members from defeat. Worse, he exposed them to defeat. He failed in his number-one duty as a state leader to support public education. He should spare the House a speaker’s race by resigning. Even Donald Rumsfeld knew when his time had come.