Texas Politics

The Washington Post

By The Associated Press
Monday, January 8, 2007; 5:21 AM

Obituaries in the News

— Billy Clayton

SPRINGLAKE, Texas (AP) _ Former Texas House Speaker Billy Clayton, who served in the House for 20 years, died Saturday in Lubbock. He was 78.

Clayton had been in ill health for some time, said his daughter, Brenda Herrell of Littlefield.

Michael Phillips, a University of Texas professor who has written about the history of the House speakership, said Clayton was among the first to really use the post of House speaker to wield power.

Clayton served as speaker from 1975 until 1983, which was an unprecedented span then.

During his third term, he was indicted and later acquitted on federal bribery charges filed as part of an FBI sting called “BriLab.”

He sponsored legislation in the next legislative session to establish the Public Servant Standards of Conduct Advisory Committee, according to the Handbook of Texas online. The committee’s report led to new ethics laws in 1983.

In recent years, Clayton served on the board of “Campaigns for People,” a group that lobbied for stricter campaign finance disclosure laws.

During his tenure as a representative, he also focused on water issues.






Either way, vote will highlight historic reign
Associated Press Writer
Posted: Monday, January 8, 2007 12:00 am
Tom Craddick made history four years ago when he became the first Republican to lead the Texas House since 1871. Now he could be the first Texas speaker to be voted out of the powerful office.

Michael Phillips, a Texas historian writing a book about the office of House speaker, said no one in the job has ever had it taken away by a vote of his peers. Then again, he said no one has ever exercised the almost unbridled power that has come to characterize Craddick’s reign.

The same forceful leadership that helped Craddick get tort reform, property tax relief and Republican-friendly congressional redistricting through the House could be his downfall.

His opponent, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, is a former ally who says the office needs to be more traffic cop than disciplinarian. Complaints about Craddick’s leadership style re-emerged recently over a debate about how the House would administer the vote for speaker. Rep. Richard Raymond subsequently withdrew his support of Craddick.

“Your recent demand that supporters must not only reaffirm their commitment to you but also vote for an election process that leaves members subject to intimidation and perhaps retaliation makes it apparent that a return to a civil and ethical House will not occur under your leadership,” said Raymond, a Democrat, in a lengthy letter to Craddick.

Unless one of the candidates drops out first, the 149-member House will choose between the two conservative Republicans on Tuesday, the opening day of the 80th Legislative session.

“I am more confident than ever that I will have the necessary votes that will lead to a change in House leadership and a more open, bipartisan way of doing business,” Pitts said late Monday. “I am in this until the end, and I expect to win.”

Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said that the speaker has been gaining votes and expects to prevail Tuesday.

Ambitious politicians haven’t always coveted the speaker job, which was established in the state’s 1876 Constitution. That changed with the 1933-37 tenure of Speaker Coke Stevenson, who was the first to serve more than one consecutive term.

“Beginning with Coke Stevenson is when people began to see the office of speaker as desirable,” Phillips said.

Because the office was largely intended to be weak, duties and limits were not dictated. The only mandate is that the speaker be elected from the members of the House.

“Because the office is so vaguely outlined in the Constitution, the speaker’s office can be as powerful as you want it to be,” he said. The framers didn’t anticipate that the job’s ill-defined responsibilities would actually be an opportunity rather than a limitation, he said.

Starting with Speaker Billy Clayton, who served from 1975 to 1983, modern speakers have won political allies by appointing them to key committees and ensuring that their pet legislation is adopted.

Democratic Speakers Ben Barnes, Gib Lewis and Pete Laney followed suit, paving the way for Craddick’s unprecedented reign.

“Craddick was able to inherit the accumulation of power … established by his Democratic predecessors,” Phillips said.

The largely cloak-and-dagger effort to oust Craddick has been hanging like a dark cloud over the upcoming legislative session.

If no one drops out before Tuesday the drama will spill onto the House floor with anything possible as family and friends watch the day’s ceremonial proceedings.

Craddick, who was elected to the House in 1968, became speaker in 2003 when Republicans won a majority in the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.







The El Paso Times

El Paso lawmakers reflect on Craddick’s time as Speaker of the House

By Brandi Grissom

January 12, 2009

One of Craddick’s main goals as a young legislator with few Republican colleagues was to see more members of the GOP elected to the Texas House. Over the years, he raised money for Republican candidates and watched his party’s power grow in the Legislature.

AUSTIN – El Paso lawmakers were worried in 2003 when state Rep. Tom Craddick became the first Republican Texas House speaker since Reconstruction.

Six years later after they all joined a team that helped topple the powerful leader, local lawmakers said the Midland Republican’s leadership was more hurtful than helpful to El Paso.

“I can’t think of one positive thing he did (for El Paso) while he was there,” said outgoing state Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso.

Local legislators described Craddick’s six years at the House helm as bruising and difficult, a time when funding for the city’s top priority, a four-year medical school, was held hostage as leverage for votes. Business leaders in the community, however, paint a brighter picture. Were it not for Craddick, they said, Texas Tech University’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, would not be preparing to accept its first class of four-year medical students this year.

“He had West Texas in his heart,” said Rick Francis, Chairman of the Bank of the West-El Paso and a member of the Texas Tech board of regents. “Under Tom Craddick’s watch this community got a lot of resources.”

Craddick entered the Texas House in 1969 at age 25, one of nine Republicans in a Democrat-dominated state.

He made a name for himself early on, as outgoing state Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, recalled. Both were members of the so-called Dirty 30, who in 1971 worked against an unpopular House Speaker Gus Mutscher, who was later convicted on bribery charges.

“We thought they were on our side,” Moreno said of Craddick and other Republicans in the Dirty 30. “We thought they were trying to be for good government.”

One of Craddick’s main goals as a young legislator with few Republican colleagues was to see more members of the GOP elected to the Texas House. Over the years, he raised money for Republican candidates and watched his party’s power grow in the Legislature.

Finally, in 2003, Republicans won a historic 88 seats in the 150-member chamber. A grateful GOP majority transformed their longtime benefactor into House Speaker and one of the most powerful men in Texas government.

Michael Phillips, a Colin College history professor whose book about Texas House speakers is due out next year, said when Craddick assumed the office he was the most powerful speaker in history.

Three factors, Phillips said, made Craddick so influential. Previous speakers had already amassed power in the position. State lawmakers had become the recipients of large contributions because the federal government had ceded more responsibility to them.

And perhaps most critically for Craddick, he had been instrumental in the election of nearly every Republican in the House.

“This gave him an authority and the membership of the Republican caucus had a great sense of personal debt to him,” Phillips said.

The way Craddick used that authority, Phillips said, led to his demise.

Instead of creating a collegial atmosphere where Democrats and Republicans could work together as his predecessor, state Rep. Pete Laney, had done, Phillips said Craddick reigned through fear. His multi-million-dollar campaign war chest loomed overhead as potential retribution for lawmakers who dared vote against Craddick’s interests.

“They were afraid of tangling with this massive political machine,” Phillips said.

In the El Paso delegation, veteran Rep. Haggerty was among the most outspoken of Craddick’s opponents. In 2007, he led a rowdy walkout from the House chamber after railing against alleged power abuse by Craddick.

He paid the price.

Craddick’s allies poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of El Paso businessman Dee Margo, who defeated Haggerty in the March primary.

After nearly 20 years in office, Haggerty was undone by a leader from his own political party.

El Paso lawmakers said it wasn’t just elections Craddick used as leverage to garner support for his own agenda.

When Craddick first took office, getting money for the budding four-year medical school in El Paso was top priority for the delegation.

“Once he gave it to us, knew damn well there wouldn’t be any power over us, so that’s why he didn’t do anything in session after session,” Haggerty said.

Time after time, they said, that money was used as a carrot to extract from El Paso lawmakers votes on other issues that were not in the best interest of the border community.

In 2003, a powerful Craddick ally on the budget-writing committee reportedly told El Paso legislators dollars for the medical school would be withheld if they did not vote for measures to reform medical malpractice and to make it tougher to file lawsuits in Texas.

Two years later, when El Paso lawmakers sought $60 million to hire faculty at the medical school so officials could prepare for the first class of doctors-in-training, the money was yanked from the budget at the last minute.

In its place $13 million appeared for a clinic in Midland, Craddick’s hometown.

In another fruitless attempt to curry Craddick’s favor during a special legislative session later that year, El Paso legislators voted for a school funding measure even though it would have left local schools behind.

When Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, both Republicans, called for emergency funding to get the medical school going, Craddick rejected the proposal. Other funding priorities, he said in 2006, were more pressing.

“The problem was in the House, and it was an issue between the House delegation and the Speaker,” Dewhurst told the El Paso Times then.
Without money to hire faculty, Texas Tech officials had to push back the planned opening from fall 2008 to fall 2009.

Hoping to finally get the funds in 2007, state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, was the only local legislator to vote for Craddick to lead the Texas House.

Lawmakers did approve $48 million for the school. Chavez said she helped in the process with her position on the influential House budget-writing committee, but it was El Paso business leaders who contributed to Craddick’s campaign whose medical school pleas mattered more to the House leader.

Lawmakers did approve $48 million for the school. Chavez said she helped in the process with her position on the influential House budget-writing committee, but it was El Paso business leaders who contributed to Craddick’s campaign whose medical school pleas mattered more to the House leader.

That became readily apparent when Chavez presented a bill that would have allowed the Tiguas to resume gaming at Speaking Rock Casino.

The vote on the measure ended in a 66-66 tie after a heated and unpleasant late-night debate.

Craddick could have broken the tie, and Chavez’s most important bill of the session would have passed the House, even if it was doomed to fail in the Senate.

He didn’t.

“He left me on the dance floor without a partner when he didn’t vote to break the 66-66 tie,” Chavez said.

El Paso business leaders, however, said even if Craddick clashed with local lawmakers, he was good to the border city.

Rick Francis, who was chairman of the Texas Tech board of regents, said Craddick sat down with local business leaders when he became Speaker and helped them map out a plan to get the medical school funded.

Craddick explained, Francis said, that the community had to show its support for the school by investing its own capital. And he told the business leaders they would have to prove to other lawmakers that the medical school would benefit the entire state, not just El Paso.

“We never experienced any of that type of pay-to-play type of thing with him at all,” Francis said.

Ted Houghton, a member of the Texas Transportation Committee who runs an insurance and financial management firm, said if Craddick hadn’t supported the medical school, El Paso would still be waiting for money.

“Regardless of what anybody else says, he allowed that to happen,” Houghton said. “It took some time to get it, but we got it.”

Though many legislators chaffed under Craddick’s leadership and staged a dramatic rebellion against him, the controversial leader is unlikely to be more than a note in Texas history, said Ross Ramsey editor of the political journal Texas Weekly.

Texas House speakers, he said, are rarely noted unless they served during a major event or they went to jail.

“They’re just the guy who gets to run it for a while,” Ramsey said.

El Paso lawmakers said they are hoping the next guy, state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, runs the House differently.

We just want a friendlier House run by well-placed and well-meaning people,” said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. “And give everybody a shot.”







Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Leadership style of new speaker taking shape
Monday, April 27, 2009

Associated Press Reporter

AUSTIN – The role of Texas House speaker isn’t defined by the state Constitution, but rather by the individual holding the office. From reform-minded Price Daniel Jr. to the iron-fisted rule of Tom Craddick, circumstances and personalities have dictated each leader’s power and prestige.

Three months into his first term leading the 150-member chamber, Republican Speaker Joe Straus is emerging as a bipartisan compromise-seeker, rejecting much of the power that his predecessor so coveted.

Straus still faces some tough tests, but just four years after Craddick was anointed as the most powerful Texan by Texas Monthly magazine, observers say the young GOP leader has shifted power back to the House.

“Not some, probably all,” said Rep. Tommy Merritt, a Longview Republican when asked if the speaker has given up some of the office’s power. “He’s doing exactly what a good speaker should do. He’s wielding the gavel and trying to make fair rulings to make the will of the House work for Texas.”

Straus’ first big victory came last week when the normally raucous House unanimously approved the $178 billion budget. It was the first time in a decade that the usually thorny state budget came out with 149-0 approval.

In a rare sit-down, on-the-record interview with The Associated Press, Straus said the unanimous vote was the result of weeks of negotiations and compromise.

“No one, right or left, Republican or Democrat, urban or rural, is going to crush somebody by sheer force this session,” said Straus, the state’s first Jewish speaker.

Though he prefers to shun the spotlight, Straus is well liked around the Capitol. With a thick head of salt-and-pepper hair, his distinguished and polished looks convey his wealthy San Antonio pedigree. He spoke on a wide number of subjects during the nearly hourlong AP interview.

He said he could see both sides of the argument over whether the state should oppose Gov. Rick Perry to accept federal unemployment money, criticized his counterpart in the Senate for hastily taking up a divisive political bill and said Perry has gotten a little overly enthusiastic in suggesting Texans might at some point want to secede.

“I think it’s hyperbole,” he said. “It’s getting the governor so enthusiastic that sometimes I think he gets a little over enthusiastic. I’m the opposite. I’m boring and slow. I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

As speaker, Straus sets the agenda in the Texas House and, in terms of political influence, is on par with the governor and lieutenant governor.

His surprise rise to power this year ended an era of bitter partisan division. Craddick’s six-year reign yielded the successful passage of an aggressive GOP agenda including curbs on personal injury lawsuits, congressional redistricting and school property tax reductions. But his win-at-all-costs style inspired a House uprising that led to his eventual defeat.

“This is a period of transition,” said Michael Phillips, a historian working on a book about the history of Texas speakers. “Straus is not able to, in this period, to really wield the power that that leadership has had, that’s been developing for 20 years. His humble objective is to make sure the House functions more smoothly … but not at the risk of alienating the Democrats that put him into office.”

The new decentralized power structure “puts a lot more burden on the” committee chairmen, said Rep. Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford. “Chairs are taking a lot more Tylenol and Advil than in previous sessions.”

Still, Straus’ role in brokering the newfound harmony remains to be seen. With Republicans holding a narrow 76-74 edge over Democrats, compromise would be necessary under any speaker.

“Anyone can assemble enough members to kill almost anything … so everyone’s having to work together,” King said.

Moreover, the House has been off to a slow start and many of the session’s most important votes have only taken place in the Senate.

“There are a bunch of bills that have yet to come up in the House that are going to show us more,” said Ross Ramsey, editor of the online newsletter Texas Weekly. “We don’t have a complete picture yet.”

Lately, Straus has been working to forge a compromise on an effort to strengthen voter identification requirements, a measure so divisive it sparked partisan meltdown in the Senate and triggered threats of lawsuits.

The legislation is expected to be debated by the House within the next couple of weeks. But by many accounts, a House compromise is on the horizon. Unlike the Senate, Straus said, the House wasn’t going to “pull the pin on the grenade and be irresponsible, which I think they were.”

“They just didn’t care about the consequences of the emotional side of it,” he said. “And we’re trying to be deliberate and slow … we’re trying to find solutions, not just talking points for somebody’s political agenda.”

Add to that immigration issues, transportation funding and looming fights over higher education admissions and funding, and it’s certain Straus will be tested plenty before the session ends on June 1.

“There are a lot of the nasty fights that are out there haven’t shown up yet,” Ramsey said.







Austin American Statesman

The Evolution of Texas Speaker

By Jody Seaborn
Updated: 12:05 p.m. Saturday, April 3, 2010 | Posted: 12:04 p.m. Saturday, April 3, 2010
“Both literally and metaphorically, Texas House speakers live at the center of the state’s political universe.” So begins The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics, a new book from University of Texas Press that tracks the evolution of the office of the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives from 1846 to today from what co-authors Patrick L. Cox and Michael Phillips call “the presiding speakership” of the 19th century to “the executive speakership” of the past 35 years.

It perhaps will surprise most readers to learn that the speaker of the Texas House wasn’t always a powerful figure in state government. In fact, until Coke Stevenson controversially bucked precedent in the 1930s, no Texas speaker led consecutive legislative sessions. Speakers in the 19th century and through the Progressive era of the early 20th century would preside over a session, then step aside so one of their colleagues could take his turn running the show next time.

But since World War II, as Texas became more urban and its population grew and became more diverse, and as state government expanded to match the increasingly complex demands placed on it, the power of the office of Texas speaker has grown to match — and at times exceed — the power and influence of the lieutenant governor and governor.

Cox is associate director of the University of Texas’ Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. I recently spoke with him about his book, which developed out of an oral history project he and Phillips, a history professor at Collin College in Plano, started in 2004 when they began interviewing nine former speakers and then-Speaker Tom Craddick. A version of this interview first appeared on my Statesman blog, Grapeshot; it’s been edited for space and clarity:

American-Statesman: What were some of the key social changes in the state that increased the importance and power of the Texas speaker?

Patrick L. Cox: Texas was primarily a Southern state both in culture and politics. It evolved through the 20th century to become a much more diverse, urbanized and industrialized state. … The demands on state government and state services changed as the state’s economy and population expanded. And we moved from being a small-government state with limited services to one that now, at least arguably speaking, provides more services and more regulation and more investment in, for example, education — although one can also argue that we’re still, by many measures, behind the national average.

What were some of the key institutional changes in the House that led to a stronger speakership?

One is the power of the speaker over a number of the administrative tasks associated with the House, and by administrative tasks, I just mean the day-to-day operations and running of the House and even the Capitol itself. The second thing is the expansion of committees, and the speaker’s power of assigning committee chairs and people to committees, both during the session and during the interim, because there are many more interim studies and committees that take place in this modern era. The essence is that the speaker is really part of the triumvirate now that presides over state government: the speaker, the lieutenant governor and the governor.
What are some qualities speakers must possess?

They have to have the political acumen to read the House membership, and not just what’s going on in the House of Representatives, but also how to interact with the governor and the Senate and lieutenant governor. I also think the modern speaker has to have a media presence; they have to be media-savvy, because we’re in a very media-conscious age and the speaker has to have the ability to communicate their views and their positions.

Do you have a favorite speaker or does one stand out in importance?

I don’t think there’s one in particular. Perhaps Speaker (Pete) Laney was among the most successful in dealing with a very diverse agenda. But then I also look at Gib Lewis, who was speaker when the state was dealing with a number of difficult issues — education, state finance, and growth of state government — and some challenging economic times back in the ’80s. Then there’s one of the earlier speakers, Reuben Senterfitt back in the ’50s. He only served a couple of terms but he was the first modern-era speaker to recognize the need to improve House administration and organization. He also was one of the first speakers to stand up and take the lead on policy initiatives in advance of the governor and lieutenant governor, and he really set a number of important precedents in that regard.

What was an important thing that you learned from the oral history project?

The one theme that consistently ran through the interviews was the acknowledgement that whoever was speaker, regardless of their politics, they always said they had to be a speaker who kept their finger on the pulse of the membership and as soon as they got too far away from that is when things went askew. The speaker really has to have a sense of the people who are there in the House. Speakers have their own agendas but they also have to have the sense of the multiple agendas and personalities in the House.

Jody Seaborn is American-Statesman books editor: jseaborn@statesman.com; 445-1702






Texas Observer

Who Runs Texas?
by Dave McNeely

Published on Friday, July 30, 2010, at 3:50 CST

A LONG STANDING ARGUMENT IS that the lieutenant governor of Texas is more powerful than the governor. It’s that way by design. During the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, Texas had to endure the concentration of power in the governor: who removed local, elected officials that had been part of the Confederacy; appointed district judges, district attorneys, county treasurers, mayors and aldermen; and imposed martial law on counties. After Reconstruction, writers of the new Texas Constitution vowed to disperse power among the lieutenant governor, the speaker and the governor. The revised constitution also made numerous other positions elected instead of appointed by the governor. Several other former Confederate states did likewise.

This means the most visible politician in the state can have trouble moving an agenda. “When you couldn’t dominate the Legislature,” observed Mary Beth Rogers, who was chief of staff to the late Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, “you were limited in your ability to get anything done. That became a problem. It’s a structural flaw in Texas government.”

Her statement is in former state Rep. Brian McCall’s book, The Power of the Texas Governor: Connally to Bush. McCall, a Plano Republican who is now chancellor of the Texas State University System, combines meticulous historical research with knowledge gleaned from almost 20 years in the House. This book, like another recent title on the history of the speaker of the House, The House Will Come to Order, shows how individuals have the potential to shape these positions. Over time there have been powerful Texas governors and weak Texas governors, depending on their persuasive abilities. And over the past 50 years, the speaker of the House has become a power center as speakers have learned to control the state’s budget.

As The Power of the Texas Governor lays out, Richards’ tenure proved how limiting the governor’s position can be if you don’t have an ally in the lieutenant governor. Richards had the misfortune of being elected governor at the same time 16-year State Comptroller Bob Bullock was elected lieutenant governor. Though they had been hearty drinking buddies before they both went to what Bullock called “drunk school,” to say Richards’ relationship with the cantankerous, dominating Senate presiding officer was rocky is a vast understatement.

Bullock wanted information about everything: policy, politics, personal gossip. He demanded it in frequently nasty terms. He’d wanted to be governor and tried to relegate Richards to clipping ribbons and making speeches. Richards, a former county commissioner and state treasurer, was detail-oriented, and had her own ideas about how things should run. She and her staff were determined not to cater to Bullock’s hostile demands, which added fuel to the fire. Bullock called Richards’ staff “hairy-legged lesbians” and made Richards’ lone, four-year term as governor hell.

Richards lost re-election to Republican presidential son George W. Bush in 1994. Though Bush was from the opposing party, he was just what Bullock was looking for. Bush had a limited agenda and was content to let Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat, run things. Meanwhile, Bush’s political guru Karl Rove greased the skids for Bush’s 2000 presidential run. Bush fed Bullock all the information he wanted. Democrat Bullock developed a deep affection for Republican Bush, and wound up endorsing him for re-election as governor in 1998 over Land Commissioner Garry Mauro—a Bullock protégé, a fellow Democrat and a former deputy comptroller under Bullock, who was the godfather to two of Mauro’s kids. Then Bullock endorsed Bush for president. A different relationship, indeed.

The governor can run this state if he’s savvy enough and has legislative leaders who will go along. Possibly the most successful governor at achieving far-sighted goals and wielding power and influence was John Connally (1963-1969), a longtime aide and ally of Lyndon Johnson. A Democrat at the time (he switched parties after leaving the governorship), Connally had served as secretary of the Navy during the administrations of Democrats John F. Kennedy and Johnson. From that vantage, he watched other states surpass Texas in attracting research grants. “Unless our nation produces more and better brainpower, our system of democratic government, our personal liberties, will soon perish,” Connally warned in his first State of the State address.

McCall quotes longtime Texas Monthly political writer Paul Burka’s description of Connally as “the greatest Texas governor of the century” because, Burka said, Connally “saw the dark side of the Texas stereotype—a self-satisfaction, a narrowness, a confusion of size with greatness, and an obsession with myth that kept the State from realizing its full potential. What’s more, he said so. He made Texans see that they weren’t as good as they thought they were.”

Connally engineered the election of ally Ben Barnes as House speaker in 1965 by appointing the previous speaker, Byron Tunnell, who had diluted Connally’s efforts, to a vacant seat on the Texas Railroad Commission. While Connally was governor, Barnes developed the speaker’s office into a political showcase—having weekly meetings with members of the Capitol press and making the speaker a more aggressive official in setting policy. It didn’t hurt that his mentor was the sitting governor.

Barnes, like Connally, was an activist. He wanted to make things happen. As Patrick L. Cox and Michael Phillips point out in The House Will Come to Order, Barnes sought to put the speaker and the House on more equal footing with the lieutenant governor and the Senate. “We are not going to come down this trail but one time,” Barnes said he told his troops in the House. “Let’s get out there. Let’s not just sit over here and react. Let’s go act. The Senate gets all the credit for what good legislation passes. The House has always kind of been a second place to the governor and the Senate. So let’s change it. Let’s get out there and be proactive. Let’s make some changes.”

Barnes took advantage of national policy changes. While LBJ was U.S. Senate majority leader in the 1950s, and later when he was president, he used federal matching money to get states to do things he thought they should have already been doing in education, health care and other areas. State agencies were expanded to distribute the money. The Texas House weighed in on directing that money, and speakers began to realize the job no longer was just a stepping-stone to something else, but its own power center. 
The speaker’s office holds particular appeal because speakers exercise statewide power, but don’t have to face a statewide electorate like the governor and lieutenant governor. He—there has yet to be a she—only has to face voters in one of the state’s 150 House districts, and then keep at least 75 of his 149 House colleagues happy (or scared) enough to re-elect him every two years.

The gold standard for recent speakers was moderate-conservative Democrat Pete Laney, who ran the House from 1993 to 2003. The House Will Come to Order shows that his management style helped extend his longevity. He allowed members to vote in the interests of their districts even if it contradicted what his party wanted. His tenure looked even more golden after a few years of his successor. Republican Tom Craddick of Midland helped engineer Republican redistricting coups that reshaped the House’s districts to unseat long-serving Democrats in the Texas and U.S. Houses, and produced the first GOP House majority since just after the Civil War.

Craddick was so autocratic that he alienated some Republican as well as Democratic members. Now we’ve returned to a more moderate presence in charge, Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio. Straus, evenhanded like Laney in dealing with members of the other party during his first term, began courting more conservative Republican members after the Legislature adjourned. He realized that while the Democrats were responsible for his election, they would dump him for a Democrat if they won a majority. That put him in the ironic position of needing to maintain a Republican House majority—but not too large for fear of a coup from the right—to continue as speaker. It remains to be seen whether he can walk that tightrope.

The Power of the Texas Governor does not include Rick Perry, who has become arguably the most powerful Texas governor ever, mostly as a result of his longevity. He has not only appointed every member of every state board and commission, but also reappointed many—as long as they stayed committed to his political future. He has stacked several agencies with former employees. He has appointed a considerable number of state judges to vacancies, including two-thirds of the Texas Supreme Court.
Perry has used his power to shrink the government. Facing a $10 billion budget shortfall in 2003, Perry announced he wanted the budget balanced without new taxes. With Republican majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in more than a century, few legislators wanted to vote for a tax hike they presumed would never become law. To pinch pennies, legislators deregulated college tuition (it has since skyrocketed), kicked hundreds of thousands of children off the state’s health care program, and forced state departments and agencies to cut corners. Whether those results are good or bad depends on one’s point of view, but there is no doubt that Perry has left his mark on Texas politics.

How will upcoming elections shuffle the power dynamics at the Capitol? Conventional wisdom is that Texas is such a red state that Perry is on a slick track to re-election. His political team’s theory has been that after winning the Republican primary, he’s a cinch to win the general election. If they are right, Perry will add almost 1,500 days to the almost 3,700 he will have logged by the January inauguration.

The results of the 2010 elections, and how the big three positions are affected, could have a huge impact on legislative redistricting and budget battles in the 2011 legislative session that begins in January—and could shape the state for at least the next decade.

As The House Will Come to Order and The Power of the Governor show, the powers of the speaker and the governor grow partly through longevity and allies in other power positions. If Perry and Republican legislators continue to dominate, they will increasingly be able to assert their policy agenda—a departure from the intent of the writers of the Constitution to limit the governor’s power. This election could have a huge effect on whether Texas is headed for bitter, winner-take-all partisanship or solution-oriented bipartisan cooperation.

Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for two dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.






Alvin Sun Advertiser

Capitol Guns
House Speaker’s Power has increased with state importance, longevity
Published: Friday, September 24, 2010 5:05 PM EDT
Dave McNeely

Over the past half century, the power of the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives has grown considerably. Before that, the speaker would serve a two-year term, or maybe two, and then go back to the floor the next session while someone else took the gavel.

The more powerful House speaker probably began during the four years Democrat Ben Barnes held the job (1965-69). Barnes became speaker at age 26, with help from his mentor, then-Gov. John B. Connally.

Barnes, like Connally, wanted action. A recent UT Press book, “The House Will Come to Order,” says Barnes wanted the House and speaker to match the power of the Senate and its presiding officer, the lieutenant governor.

“We are not going to come down this trail but one time,” Barnes told his troops.

“Let’s get out there. Let’s not just sit over here and react. Let’s go act. The Senate gets all the credit for what good legislation passes. The House has always been kind of been a second place to the governor and the Senate. So let’s change it. Let’s get out there and be proactive. Let’s make some changes.”

Lyndon Johnson of Texas, as U.S. Senate majority leader in the 1950s and as president after 1963, used federal matching funds as bait for states to do things he thought they had neglected in education, health care, environmental policy. So state agencies expanded to distribute the money.

The House shared control, and speakers began to realize their job was a power center, not just a steppingstone.

The speaker’s power is statewide, but he faces only 150th of the state’s voters. Unlike the lieutenant governor and governor, he runs in just one of the 150 House districts, and then keep at least 75 House colleagues happy (or scared) enough to re-elect him every two years.

What House authors Patrick L. Cox and Michael Phillips call the “executive speakership” emerged in the 1970s. Speakers served longer, usually increasing their power. In Texas’ bipartisan legislative operation, new House members found it prudent to join the sitting speaker’s team, rather than chance winding up on the committee to change light bulbs.

Speaker Billy Clayton (1975-83) wanted to run for agriculture commissioner in 1978, after incumbent John C. White joined President Jimmy Carter’s administration in 1977. Texas had switched from two-year to four-year terms for most statewide offices beginning in the 1974 election. But Reagan Brown, appointed in 1977 as interim agriculture commissioner, ran for election in 1978.

Clayton sought re-election, and won a third term — breaking the traditional two-term limit — and then broke his own record by winning a fourth. That was despite a bribery charge of which he was acquitted. But even so, it killed his statewide elective hopes.

Then Gib Lewis (1983-93) broke Clayton’s longevity record, serving 10 years.

Pete Laney (1993-2003) also served 10 years. He would have served 12, and maybe more, but in 2003 lost the job to Tom Craddick, the first Republican speaker since just after the Civil War.

Laney, a moderate-conservative Democrat like Clayton and Lewis, is considered by many House members as the gold standard for recent speakers. “The House Will Come to Order” says his longevity was the result of his management ability, allowing members to vote their districts rather than a party line.

Laney’s tenure looked even more golden after a few years of Craddick, who helped engineer redistricting coups to unseat senior Democrats in the House and the Texas congressional delegation. The shuffle brought the first GOP majorities in the Texas House and congressional delegation in more than a century.

Craddick’s dictatorial style alienated some House Republican as well as Democrats. In 2009, a rump group of 11 frustrated Republicans joined with most of the House’s Democrats to replace Craddick with moderate Republican Joe Straus of San Antonio.

Straus was evenhanded like Laney in dealing with members of the other party during his first legislative session. But since then, he’s courting more conservative Republican members. He knows that Democrats were responsible for his election, but also that they would dump him in favor of a Democrat if they win a majority.

So ironically, to continue as speaker, Straus needs to keep or expand a Republican House majority — but not too large, for fear of a coup from the right. We’ll see if he can successfully walk that tightrope.

Whether the House Republicans improve or hold their 77-73 edge over Democrats, or Democrats retake control, will have a big impact on legislative redistricting and budget battles in the 2011 legislative session. It also could affect whether Texas will regain a degree of solution-oriented bipartisan cooperation, or go the way of Congress and winner-take-all partisan warfare.

Dave McNeely is a longtime Texas political columnist. Contact him at davemcneely111@gmail.com.







USA Today

Straus Fighting Conservative Wave to Keep Seat

By April Castro
Friday, Jan 7, 2011 Updated 10:30 AM CDT

Republican Rep. Beverley Woolley has heard the threats and seen the television ads warning her that supporting Joe Straus for speaker of the Texas House could cost her re-election.

Still, she’s standing by him.

“I’ve got broad shoulders,” she joked, acknowledging the barrage of attacks from conservative groups.

Woolley, who last month pledged to support the speaker, has been on the receiving end of a grassroots, conservative effort to oust Straus. Activists claim he is too moderate for the newly minted GOP supermajority in the House.

The 150-member chamber will elect their presiding officer on Tuesday, at the beginning of the 140-day legislative session. Republican Reps. Ken Paxton and Warren Chisum are challenging Straus for the job. The speaker sets the agenda and controls which bills are taken up. In terms of political influence, the House speaker is on par with the governor and lieutenant governor.

House Republicans have scheduled a caucus meeting for Monday, the day before the session begins, to take a nonbinding vote. Caucus votes are traditionally not part of the speaker election process, but conservatives hope to build momentum for a new speaker. Straus insists he has the votes to win another term and has released the names of 122 members who had pledged their support to him, much more than the 76 majority he needs to win. But the list came out before conservatives turned up the pressure.

One Straus foe, a group called Women on the Wall, is running anti-Straus television ads in Houston and Dallas. Portraying the race as the “Speaker Showdown,” they warn local lawmakers like Woolley that the choice is a “conservative speaker or your seat.”

Several other groups have put lawmakers on notice that their vote for speaker will weigh heavily when their end-of-session scorecards come out. Last week, a conservative-leaning watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against Straus, alleging that he unlawfully accepted campaign contributions and failed to disclose required details.

With congressional redistricting on the agenda for the legislative session, the race has even drawn in national figures such as former Arkansas governor-turned-pundit Mike Huckabee and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who both endorsed Paxton.

“Outside lobbying groups began to realize that in places like Texas, the speaker can exercise so much power, it’s very cost efficient to get involved in speaker races,” said Michael Phillips, a government professor at Collin College who has written a book about the office of Texas speaker.

The Texas Alliance for Life endorsed Paxton, claiming Straus isn’t “committed to allowing the pro-life legislation to pass, in particular, defunding Planned Parenthood,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the anti-abortion group.

“It’s been amazing,” said Paxton, 48, who says 17 House members have publicly pledged their support to him. “I’ve never seen an issue in the state that’s generated this much interest from Republican voters.”

Straus was elevated to the seat two years ago with the help of Democrats. At that time, the House was still controlled by Republicans, but with a 76-74 split, they only held a two-seat majority. Then Straus was seen as a bipartisan leader and did not wield the seat’s power like his predecessor, former Speaker Tom Craddick, who was ousted because of his bruising leadership style.

Since then, Republicans swept last year’s general election, and will have a 101-49 supermajority this year.

Straus insists he is a true conservative.

“Speaker Straus is pro-life,” said Straus spokeswoman Tracy Young. “Speaker Straus is a fiscal conservative who led the House in cutting taxes and spending in a closely divided House last session.”

Opponents disagree.

“His history, his own personal voting record has been more moderate on fiscal issues and more liberal on social issues,” said Paxton, a lawyer who also has a title company. “He appointed (chairmen) that were more liberal than the overall House, let alone Republican members. That’s disturbing to Republican voters. Voters also struggle with the fact that he was elected overwhelmingly by Democrats.”

Straus, a wealthy San Antonio business man from a prominent family, has stayed out of the public view in recent days and would not grant an interview before the start of the session.

“He’s focused on the task before them, the business at hand,” Young said, noting the vexing task of balancing the state budget with a massive shortfall and without raising taxes as Straus and other Republicans have pledged.

Straus’ family has been in the horse racing business for close to 100 years, and anti-gambling forces fear he would use his powerful post to promote an expansion of gambling in Texas. But Straus, whose family holds a stake in San Antonio’s Retama Park horse track, has said he would take a hands-off approach to gambling bills and allow the chamber to exercise its will.

“I will not be involved in an issue, any issue, where my personal interests will be advanced,” Straus told the AP shortly before he was sworn in last year.

As for abortion, Straus has said he supports restrictions on the procedure, including a requirement that parents give their consent before their minor children terminate a pregnancy.

“I support existing laws on abortion,” he said in 2009. “I believe the laws that are currently in place are not at this point a state matter.”

Copyright Associated Press