What Happens Next
Let’s assume that the process of vacating the chair has been set in motion by a resolution. Then what?
Rule 5, Section 36 says, “Questions of privilege shall have precedence over all other questions, except motions to adjourn.” Therefore, the only way to slow down the proceedings is for a pro-Craddick member to move to adjourn. This would have to be voted on by the House, and it would become to this speaker’s race what the Geren amendment was in January: a proxy vote. You can imagine the drama when the board lights up. One of the key factors in January, I thought, was that the Craddick forces beat the challengers to the voting buttons and the board lit up green in favor of the motion to table. (It is not easy to read the board. The green lights seem brighter than the red; the board has to be really red before the nays win.) Don’t think that this doesn’t influence the outcome. Wavering members want to go with the winner. It’s a matter of political survival.
Let’s assume that the motion to adjourn fails. (If it succeeds, Craddick has proven that he has the votes to defeat the insurgency.) The vote will smoke out the insurgents and both sides will know where every member stands. The Craddick forces will try to find a way to stall a vote on the resolution so they can turn around some votes. If that fails, I can think of only one play left: to break the quorum. Pro-Craddick members might start drifting off the floor. The irony of this development is apparent: Craddick would be employing the same strategy that the “Chicken D’s (Craddick’s phrase) used against him during the redistricting battle of 2003. If the session shuts down without the House adopting a budget, there would have to be a special session, and Craddick would be back in the saddle as speaker.
Finally, let’s hypothesize that the insurgents win and Craddick is deposed. Then what? There is no agreement on how to proceed. The insurgents are agreed on only one point: that Craddick needs to be removed now. There is no agreement about whether to elect an interim speaker who is a caretaker, someone who will step down in January 09, or to elect a new fulltime speaker. Nor is there any consensus about who the new speaker should be. McCall and Keffer are probably the two leading candidates at the moment, but the choice is really wide open.
And what about Sylvester Turner? He is, after all, speaker pro tem. Would he succeed to the speakership automatically? Would he have to be removed by the insurgents? It won’t look good for Republicans to depose a black Democratic speaker.
What a moment this is.