Executive editor S. C. Gwynne, who wrote this month’s cover story, talks about Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, his seemingly average-guy life in Midland, and his powerful persona in Austin.
texasmonthly.com: How did it come to pass that Tom Craddick ended up at the top of the power list?
S. C. Gwynne: It was painfully apparent, especially to Democrats, during the legislative sessions of 2003 and 2004 that the Speaker was wielding an unusual amount of power, and doing it in a highly visible and highly personal way. It was clear that he was different from previous Speakers. If you define power as getting your way, then Craddick is already immensely powerful. He got his way much of the time. He does things himself too—he doesn’t delegate much and doesn’t have a gang of enforcers who do his work for him. He exercises his power personally.
texasmonthly.com: Were you surprised by his average-guy life in Midland?
SG: In Midland he seems not so much average as local. He is a local guy, joins everything, belongs to everything, knows everybody. What really surprised me was the huge disconnect between the way people see him in Austin and his life in Midland. The Midland version of Craddick is completely unknown in the Capitol. That is partly because he has developed few close personal relationships in Austin over the years. In Austin he is all business. In Midland he has many friends and what looks like a well-balanced life between friends, family, recreation, business, charitable and civic work, and politics. In Austin all people see is politics.
texasmonthly.com: When and why did you decide to take the “split personality” approach to writing this profile?
SG: I spent a few hours one afternoon at the Craddicks’ house in Midland. They were as nice and humble and welcoming and solicitous as they could be. We sat in their living room chatting about their lives, and he just seemed so different from this Darth Vader image that many Democrats and a few Republicans have of him. That same day I had lunch with him in town. He was among friends, eating barbecue, and while they were all pretty successful, it was just so laid-back and friendly. What I saw was a very simple, straightforward version of an American life, a sort of Norman Rockwell painting.
texasmonthly.com: How long did you work on this story?
SG: About three months, off and on. Because Tom and Nadine Craddick were so generous with their time, for which I was greatly appreciative, I was able to get a better sense of who they were.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this piece?
SG: Because of Craddick’s position, it was hard to get members of the Legislature to talk to me on the record. He is someone who almost every elected official has to deal with, or at least take into consideration. No one wants to cross him, or anger him unnecessarily. So I had to work harder at getting interviews.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this article?
SG: Craddick’s business background fascinated me. He really is an exceptional dealmaker. I don’t think most people know just how successful he is, or how he made his money. In Austin people generally think he sells mud for a living. Mud is only a small part of what he does.
texasmonthly.com: What do you think Craddick enjoys most—his business career or his political career?
SG: I think he is primarily a businessman. He loves doing business; even while presiding over a legislative session, he still does his real estate and oil and gas deals. I guess I would say he is a businessman who does politics on the side, rather than the other way around. Still, he told me he always wanted to do both, from a young age. And clearly he is having to spend more time on politics now that he is Speaker of the House.