Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Whither justice reforms in a post-Craddick House?

I've been taking an "I'll believe it when I see it" approach to claims by "insurgents" in the Texas House of Representatives that they had enough votes to definitively oust Speaker Tom Craddick. But combined with seemingly every other GOP House member having announced their Speaker candidacy, the news yesterday that House Democrats released 64 anti-Craddick signatures (pdf) makes me think that, even though he's still the biggest, meanest dog in the fight, at the end of the day the pack will probably take him down.

There are 74 Democrats in the House, so 64 anti-Craddick signatures means 10 didn't sign, and predictably they're all "Craddick Ds," i.e., Democrats who backed Craddick for Speaker in 2007 and were rewarded with plumb committee assignments.

The list of non-signers includes several Democrats who hold key leadership positions on criminal justice topics, most prominently: Harold Dutton (Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Chair), Aaron Peña (Criminal Jurisprudence Chair) and Sylvester Turner (Chair of the Criminal Justice subcommittee on House Appropriations - himself a Speaker candidate). Non-signers also included my own state rep, Dawnna Dukes, and Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Ryan Guillen. So if the insurgents win, it's reasonable to speculate these members could lose their leadership spots, though there's also still a lot of horse trading yet to be done.

Perhaps the biggest loss if House leadership changed hands might be Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, a Republican whose extraordinary performance in that role IMO has made him one of the stars of the House. The West Point graduate and former engineer has served the state admirably and is well respected by nearly everyone on both sides of the aisle, so I'm hopeful that, if a post-Craddick coalition emerges, he'll get an opportunity to join it so he can hang onto that chairmanship and finish the visionary work he's begun.

Indeed, Paul Burka thinks Madden may be part of a group of swing votes - the R’s and D’s who aren’t comfortable with the current leadership of their parties and want to move on beyond Craddick" - who could wind up choosing the next Speaker.

While I was certainly critical of Tom Craddick's improper seizure of power from House members in 2007, on criminal justice reform his approach has ranged from ambivalent to modestly supportive. Both his committee appointees and the full House have passed quite a bit of important reform legislation during his tenure - much more than when Democrats controlled the lower chamber - even if Governor Perry's vetoes dulled their legacy and prevented an even more significant impact.

But for good or ill, now the die has been cast and the likelihood of a fourth Speaker term for Tom Craddick seems increasingly thin, making it quite likely that a different cast of characters could be calling the shots on key committees next year in the Texas House of Representatives.

MORE: Kuff rounds up more Speaker's race speculation.

AND MORE: Burka now believes the Speaker's race boils down to three possibilities: Dan Gattis, John Smithee or Burt Solomons.


Anonymous said...

I don't know, last time there were quite a few dogs in the hunt but in the end it went something like the last gubernatorial election--the smaller factions kind of lost out to the one with the biggest block. Except they then threw their support behind Craddick and got some sweet committee assignments.

Not saying he's there for good, but I don't think it's a done deal yet.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I agree with that to an extent. As I said, Craddick's still the biggest, meanest dog in the fight. But the difference is Perry could win the governorship with just 39% of the vote, while Craddick must get to 76 votes and a majority.

Also, the 64 Dems probably have the single biggest bloc right now, not Craddick, if we were to take our analogy from the '06 Governor's race. The next Speaker won't be a D, but there's a decent chance they could be picked by what Burka has called the ABCD coalition - Dems plus Rs who want "Anybody But Craddick."

I think it's still possible for Craddick to win, but he's on the defensive now much more than he ever was in January 2007.

Anonymous said...

True, since in January he was already elected before the real fight began and he just wouldn't allow the vote.

We'll see. For some very personal reasons, this Democrat is hoping Craddick wins. Mostly because I hope he kills every bill introduced by my home town state rep and assigns him to the Scrub the Bathrooms With a Toothbrush committee. Which is exactly what he'll do.

Anonymous said...

Your funny Grits .... Madden not being chair of the Corrections committee wouldn't be that great of a loss but you keep tootin' his horn.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"wouldn't be that great of a loss"

That would entirely depend on who replaced him.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Grits is right. If Gattis takes Speaker, we're gonna see a Chairman that will take us back to the ugly 90s.