The ABCs have said that they will choose a candidate on January 2. How are they going to do this? Will they decide among themselves? Will the Democrats have a say in the selection process? Will the pool of candidates grow? Who would make the best candidate? The important thing to remember about this discussion is that I am starting with an assumption that some readers will disagree with: that the insurgents have the numerical advantage and that their biggest hurdle is to come up with a credible candidate who can get 76 or more votes. I think this assumption is accurate today, but if January 2 comes and goes without a credible alternative to Craddick emerging, then the unsurgency will fall apart. The weaknes of the insurgency all along has been that it is a leaderless operation. Two years later, it still is. I think that the best candidate for speaker is someone who isn’t in the race: John Smithee. He is one of the few members who actually has a following on the floor. His integrity and his respect for the legislative process are above reproach. I know that overtures have been made to him. He can bring “clean hands” to the race because he is not an ABC, nor is he a Craddick-hater; he would run only to restore fair dealing to the House. About the only thing against him is that he would be yet another rural speaker. Oh, and one other thing. He isn’t a candidate. Yet. Staying with the non-filers, what about Gattis? He is one of the most talented members of the House. He didn’t have a good meeting with the Democrats–he stuck up for Keel–and some of them see him as a stalking horse for Craddick. I worry that Gattis doesn’t have enough seasoning to assume a leadership responsibility, or whether he is willing to smooth the rough edges of his ideology. Some members regard him as brash and abrupt. So what? Talent covers a multitude of shortcomings. Now, to the ABCs. Merritt and Jones are not front-line candidates. Geren won’t jump in. Pitts shredded his credibility in 07. Keffer charged halfway up the hill and pulled back. That leaves Cook, Kuempel, McCall, Solomons, Strauss. Cook was a Ten Best legislator in 2007. He did a great job as a rookie, non-lawyer chair of Civil Practices, forging compromises on controversial legislation. His personal privilege speech against Craddick last session was one of the early shots fired by the insurgency. He is not the hale fellow well met type; his strengths are his success in the business world and his quiet determination to bring about change. Kuempel is the hale fellow well met type. That’s his strength. He is nonideological and nonthreatening, and that makes him very acceptable to the Democrats and to members who want to return to the easy going Laney days. Kuempel’s problem is a lack of gravitas. I think he’s underrated, but it’s hard to see him emerging from the ABC meeting as the choice to take on Craddick. McCall (not filed yet) was a strong critic of Craddick’s candidacy for speaker in 2003, and he wrote a prescient letter to his colleagues about why Craddick would not make a good speaker. Democrats trust him. He has the understanding of the process, and the sense of fairness, to be a great speaker, and his intelligence and mastery of issues place him in the top rank of House meembers. But memories of the debacle of 2007 are still fresh, and I think they are going to be hard to overcome. Solomons is a master of the rules and a tough opponent in floor debate. He may encounter some jealousy from other ABC’s over the prospect of being a “last in, first out” speaker candidate. If he is the candidate, his mainstream Republican credentials will help him with wavering Craddick supporters but will hurt him with Democrats. Not the sort to suffer fools gladly, he can be abrasive, and that could be a problem. Straus (not filed yet) brings impeccable Republican credentials to the table. If he were elected, there would be no retaliation by the Republican estblishment against the members who voted to defeat Craddick, because the Strauses ARE the establishment. He is probably the most moderate Republican in the House. Good for Democrats. Bad for conservatives. Straus has a great political future, but speaker in 2009 is too much too soon. If the ABCD coalition holds firm, any of these candidates should be able to win. If it doesn’t, the absolute best bet to defeat Craddick is Smithee.
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