The Moment Comes … and Goes
I really enjoyed writing the post below, to which the headline applies, and I’m rather fond of it, but I wrote it before Rose and Lucio withdrew their support from Craddick. I knew that Patrick was going to have to come home to the Ds eventually if he wanted to move up to bigger and better things, and what politician doesn’t? So you can regard the item below as an antique if you want to. Obviously the game goes on, but the problems of the insurgency–particularly whether the ABCs can settle on a single candidate–remain. There is always the problem of the second wife. You know, the one who breaks up the first marriage and then, after becoming the incumbent, starts looking around at all the other women who jealous of her. Even if the insurgents can agree on whom to support, the margin could still be so thin that Craddick could get a couple of the jilted candidates to support him in wresting back the speakership. I don’t really think that is likely, because other members would be defecting to the new guy, as Laney’s supporters defected to Craddick, but never rule Craddick out.
Last night one of the leaders of the insurgency told me they had 77 votes–not enough to avoid the second wife problem, which is why they could not move beyond Cook’s speech.(Of course, their count may no longer be accurate; all those last-minute higher ed appropriations may have had some impact.) This makes a possible 79. It would be very smart if the insurgents were holding back a couple of other commitments that they plan to release in stages tonight and tomorrow. This could build momentum and throw the Craddick supporters into a panic. Remember, he has no floor leaders. The major committee chairs don’t have the stature Laney’s did. Staffer Nancy Fisher is his floor leader, and she is not widely loved inside the rail. Once the number of CONFIRMED votes gets above 80, we will have a new speaker. I wouldn’t expect Craddick to go gently into that good night, and the primaries and general election may turn into a total bloodbath, but somebody else will have the advantage of the chair, and that, as we have seen, is worth more than gold.
The original post:
Several readers have sent e-mails asking why I haven’t commented on Byron Cook’s speech last night. What am I supposed to say? I don’t think it would be received well if I said, I told you so, but . . . I told you so. Yesterday. That there was no urgency in the insurgency. That they were picking over the bones before they caught the chicken. That the insurgency was fizzling out. The ringleaders were focused on who the next speaker was going to be instead of on who the present speaker is. Hill, Keffer, McCall, Pitts — they all wanted to be the next speaker. The Ds were worried that Keffer or Hill would just inherit Craddick’s team and they would still be left on the outside. It’s a legitimate worry, but I wonder whether the Democrats are making a mistake by trying to remain a bloc. They might do better to cut everybody loose to make their own deals, the way speakers races worked before Craddick. The problem is that 55 Democratic votes looks like a plum but it is really a peach pit. It’s hard for Republicans to swallow. It a liability for whoever gets them. Dunnam, Gallego, and Coleman have kept the main body of Democrats together for most of the session on votes, and they have even developed an outstanding bench, but there is another way to look at the Democratic caucus, which a shrewd and skeptical D described to me this way: “They took a caucus of 69 Democrats and turned it into a caucus of 40.”
The biggest hurdle that the insurgency faces is that the rank and file Republican member doesn’t want to vote to declare the chair vacant. It’s not because of loyalty to Craddick. There’s not much of that left; he has shown he has no loyalty for them. It runs even deeper than fear. It’s part of a conservative’s genetic makeup to prefer order to chaos. Conservative values such as preservation of private property depend upon stability. I have talked to a number of R members who want to see Craddick go, and they all say the same thing about vacating the chair. “I just can’t do it.”
What the majority of Republicans want is for Craddick to bow out gracefully, just as, in January, what they wanted was for Craddick to change. They were deceiving themselves then, and they are deceiving themselves now. Craddick does not change. Craddick does not give up. He’ll try to remain speaker as long as Pete Laney did.
The problem facing the insurgency now is that the members smell the barn. In just six days, they get their lives back. This is the last day for serious floor debate. Tomorrow is third readings for today’s bills, and after that, everything is concurrences and conference committee reports, which are up-or-down votes. Craddick’s vulnerability has never been that the insurgency could put together a firm majority against him; it was that, in his never flagging zeal to deny the opposition even the smallest victory, he would go too far and provide the spark that ignited the powder-keg atmosphere in the chamber.
This is what happened on the night of May 7, when he overruled a point of order that the Calendars committee had violated House rules by placing a Craddick ally’s local bill on the Major State calendar. All of a sudden several House heavyweights, all of them Republicans, were questioning his ruling from the back microphone. This was the moment to make the speech that Craddick was doing irreparable harm to the institution by ignoring the rules and destroying collegiality and attempting to preserve his power by fear, and when Fred Hill went to the microphone, I really thought he was going to do the deed. He started down that road: “I have told the speaker that this was not a wise decision. I think this body would be better off if we put this behind us.” But then he said, “If he [Craddick] loses, we all lose. We need to put this behind us. I urge everybody to vote for the body. Let’s vote to sustain the speaker on this.”
That night, I worked on a blog of what Hill should have said. I wasn’t sure that it was a fair thing to do to Mr. Hill, so I never finished it, and by the next work day, Monday, there was another blowup and I let it go. But here is what it said:
“Remarks of Fred Hill on Personal Privilege”
Mr. Speaker and Colleagues:
It is with deep regret and a heavy heart that I stand before you today in this chamber that we all love. The greatest privilege of my life, other than to be raised in, and to raise, a loving family, is to have served the people of our great state as a member of the Texas House of Represenatives. I am honored to have served with each and every one of you, none moreso than my dear friend Tom Craddick. No one has ever been more worthy of the job of speaker than he. No one has mentored more young members. No one has done more for his party. No one has fought harder for the things he believes in. On a more personal level, I shall be forever in his debt for giving me the opportunity to affect public policy in our state, even though we did not always agree on the direction I was taking.
And yet, as much as I love the man Tom Craddick, I love this body more. This House is a rememarkable institution. It is superior in every way to our national House of Representatives, where a member must wait many terms before he or she can affect the process. Here, we do not tell members, “You must wait your turn.” We do not tell members, “You can’t affect this policy because you’re not on the right committee.” We do not tell members, “You can’t accomplish anything because you’re in the wrong party.” We say, “This is the Texas House of Representatives. We reward hard work. We reward initiative. We reward independence. You can do here whatever you’re big enough to do.”
This is what the House of Representative should be, but, I am sorry to say, it is not the way it is. Today, initiative is discouraged. Independence is punished. I do not intend to ascribe blame for the current state of the House. I am guilty; we are all guilty, because we have allowed it to exist. Some say that it is the unavoidable consequence of the transition that that saw my party take control in 2003. Perhaps they are right. But the question that we must ask ourselves is, How long can the House continue to engage in a never-ending cycle of retribution and payback before there is no turning back to the traditions of collegiality and common good that once prevailed on this floor? How long can we continue to tolerate the stifling of individual initiative and independence before we become like Congress and submit to the centralization of power in the leadership? The answer is, “We can’t afford to find out.”
I have concluded, with great sadness, that for change to be successful, it must begin with new leadership. I reiterate what I said before: I do not blame Tom Craddick for our own shortcomings. But I do not believe that the speaker can change, and therefore we must change the speaker. Accordingly, at the conclusion of my remarks, I will make the privileged motion to declare the chair vacant. If that motion carries, I will nominate Jim Keffer for Speaker of the House.