The sands are falling through the hour glass on Tom Craddick’s speakership. The Craddick chairs have started to worry about their own skins. I am told that Craddick has until the middle of this week to try to get the votes he needs, and then he will have to abdicate in favor of somebody else–most likely Jim Keffer, or possibly Phil King, who has been making calls. (I don’t have any definitive information on the vote count, but, trying to piece together a lot of conversations, I’d put McCall at around 80 votes and Craddick in the low to middle sixties.) The scenario in that would play out in Plan B is that the Chosen One would install Warren Chisum as chair of Appropriations, Craddick as chair of Ways and Means, and another loyalist (for example, King, if Keffer turns out to be the candidate), as chair of Calendars, and things would go on as before, except that Keffer is a nice guy who, unlike King, is widely liked on both sides of the aisle.

It’s hard to believe that Craddick would give up the speakership without making an all-out fight, forcing members to go on the record against him and then employing Leininger, Bob Perry, et al, to finance primary opponents against his enemies. Of course, Craddick’s record in elections has been terrible in the past year, both in the Republican primary run-offs and in the general election, which is one reason among many that he is in trouble. I can’t see Craddick accepting the role Pete Laney filled for the past two sessions, and he himself filled for several sessions before that, as senior statesman giving advice to his colleagues and especially to younger members–unless, that is, Craddick thought he could use it as a base to try to regain the speakership in 2009.

Could Plan B work? Maybe so. McCall’s conservatives might defect. But the implementation of the plan would constitute an admission that McCall has the votes to be elected speaker. The normal behavior of members in such circumstances would be to go with the winner, rather than with a power play that would probably turn out to be quixotic and leave them stranded on the outside. The more Republicans who switch to McCall, the safer they are from the charge (which is ludicrous anyway) that McCall is beholden to the Democrats. The Democrats will get a fair shake, but they don’t have the votes to pass legislation that the Republican majority deems unacceptable. They are in the position that the Republicans were in during the last session under Pete Laney–they can win votes on amendments and pass a few bills, but they can’t overcome the majority.

Another problem for the proponents of Plan B is that members who are looking for a chance to further their personal ambitions will observe that the plan is designed to benefit the existing chairs. Except for the speakership and some vacant chairs, most of the possitions worth coveting are already occupied. The McCall roster of chairmanships and good committee appointments is 100% open.

The Republicans who are trying to beat Bryan McCall are in denial about how the world is changing. Their 88-62 margin of four years ago is down to 81-69, and on certain issues–support for public education, school vouchers, fiscal restraints on local government–they no longer have a working majority. Their leadership, specifically Tom Craddick and Rick Perry, are responsible for this, Craddick with his anti-education stance and his support for vouchers, Perry with his lack of leadership and his commitment to the far right wing of his party. Their Texas president is pursuing a policy in Iraq–sending more troops–that has the support of only 12 to 18 percent of the public in the most recent polls. If you believe the poll this week by Democratic pollster Jeff Montgomery, more Texans now identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans. Yet Craddick’s backers are obsessed with labeling McCall as a RINO. (Readers might want to check out the comment called “RINO for Speaker,” posted to my article yesterday, “Status of the Speaker’s Race 12/31/06.” As readers can see from my response to the anonymous correspondent on the issue of abortion, McCall’s “record” on the subject is not fairly presented.) As long as the Republican hardliners are more focused on ideology–punishing Democrats, purging mainstream conservatives like Brian McCall–than they are on governing, they will continue to lose ground. It is so obvious; why can’t they see what is in front of their face?