…what would have happened if Brian McCall had called a press conference in the Capitol on November 8 and announced that he would run for speaker? In his statement, McCall would have said something like this: “Today I intend to file the necessary papers to run for speaker of the House. I am running because the Republican Party needs a leader of the House of Representatives who will protect our Republican majority. While Republicans were winning every statewide race, while Republican congressional incumbents were winning every race, while Republican state Senate incumbents were winning every race, five good Republicans were losing their seats in the House of Representatives. That makes a total of six seats lost in 2006. Every Republican challenge of a Democratic incumbent failed. This is the worst performance by my party since 1964. The responsibility for this defeat rests squarely on the shoulders of the incumbent speaker, Tom Craddick. He put Republican members in jeopardy with strongarm tactics designed to get them to vote the way he wanted them to, not the way their constituents wanted them to. His attacks on educators and his refusal to work with them over the past four years put our party in opposition to the traditional support Texas legislators of both parties have always shown for our public schools. Speaker Craddick’s tactics have been repudiated by the voters of Texas. If he remains as speaker, we will lose our Republican majority. I call on my Republican colleagues and on grass roots Republicans throughout Texas to join me in keeping Republicans the majority party in Texas and in the Texas House of Representatives.”
The fatal flaw of the McCall/Pitts challenge to Tom Craddick was that it was based on Democrats. The theory was that with most of the Democrats and fourth to a third of the Republicans, a challenge to Craddick would be successful. The problem was that the more successful they were in recruiting Democrats, the harder it became to atract Republicans beyond the dozen or so ABCs. McCall was successful in getting four Republicans away from Craddick: Talton, Laubenberg, Paxton, and Riddle, but he could never get another one in time to hold the latter three. Pitts, as far as I can tell, contributed only himself, and in the climactic vote on the Geren amendment, he had Buddy West and Joe Strauss on his side. The rank and file Republicans weren’t going to join a coalition that included people with whom they had been fighting bitterly for years and who, they felt, would be in a position to lord it over them. The Craddick forces knew how to exploit this: Just whisper, “Pete Gallego as chairman of Calendars.” Never mind that McCall and Pitts would know better than to make such an appointment.
The point is that the way to defeat Craddick was to start with Republicans, not Democrats, and to go straight for his weakest point, which was the election results. All the talk about his ethics, his ties to lobbyists, his lack of loyalty to members, his intimidation tactics–that was all old news. The election hit members where they lived: their majority, their careers. I think beating Craddick was a long shot either way, but at least the Republican strategy would have focused on the voters a successful challenger had to get.