Saturday, January 27, 2007

Speaker's race drama already spilling over into Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

Geez! Will the drama over the Speaker's race engulf the whole 80th Texas Legislature, or are these guys going to pull it together?

In the hours after House Speaker Tom Craddick announced this sesion's committee assignments, legislators' howling reactions sounded as though members time-traveled back two weeks ago to the height of the Speaker's race brawl.

Edinburg's Aaron Peña got the chairmanship of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee he wanted, but one of his new committee members, Robert Talton, already has defiantly declared he won't attend the meetings. As quoted by Peggy Fikac on the Texas Politics blog:
"I never asked for Criminal Jurisprudence. I don't want to be on it. I'm not going to go to a committee I don't want to be on," said Talton, who added that he will read a statement from the back microphone next week.
Heavens! ... Pout much, Mr. Talton?

Anyways, back to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which is particularly important because it decides on the bulk of bills that create new crimes, increase criminal penalties or change trial procedures affecting innocence cases, etc.. Not only will Peña, one of the Craddick Democrats, chair the committee, but Democrats hold a 7-2 majority overall, 7-1 if Talton makes good on his promise not to attend. Here's the list of Criminal Jurisprudence Committee members and party affiliations:
Chair, Aaron Peña (D)
Vice-Chair, Allen Vaught (D)
CBO, Debbie Riddle (R)
Terri Hodge (D)
Juan Escobar (D)
Barbara Mallory Caraway (D)
Paul Moreno (D)
Paula Pierson (D)
Robert Talton (R) ?
From that list, Reps Vaught, Caraway and Pierson are all freshmen and thus obviously newbies to the committee. Vaught is a Dallas lawyer specializing in civil environmental litigation. Caraway and Pierson were members of the Dallas and Arlington City Councils respectively.

Reps Moreno, Hodge, Escobar and Riddle all served on the committee with Peña in 2005 under Republican Terry Keel's leadership.

Of these, only Rep. Riddle, the committee's budget officer, is a Republican, and an arch-conservative at that from suburban Harris County. But I was happy to watch her knowledge of the often-difficult subject matter, IMO, mature over her first session on the committee in 2005. I bet even Ms. Riddle would agree she had more to contribute by the end of the 79th session than at the beginning, and given the complexity of the subject matter this committee handles, that may be true of the Democratic rookies this time as well.

Rep. Hodge is a long-time activist on prison reform, Moreno is an old-school liberal's liberal from El Paso, while Escobar is an ex-cop and former South Texas drug task force chief.

For good or ill, the Dallas Democratic surge in 2006 definitely affected the makeup of this body - with Terri Hodge, the three freshmen make four Dallas-area Democrats serving on the 9 member committee. If Rep. Talton makes good on his pledge not to participate, Dallas Ds will constitute four of the committee's 8 votes.

I can see why Talton felt back benched! What can you say? To the victors go the spoils.

Good luck, Chairman Peña, if all this turmoil keeps up you'll need it.

UPDATE: Analysis of Corrections and Juvenile Justice committees' membership.

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