January 10th, 2007
Tom Craddick survived an unprecedented attempt to end his tenure of House Speaker, when fellow Republican and Craddick appointed Appropriation’s Chair, Jim Pitts, withdrew his nomination for Speaker after it became clear he would not prevail. General discontent amongst Democrats with Craddick’s strong-arm leadership style has been around since he became Speaker, but Republican anger, based largely around the perception that Craddick would not let members vote their districts, reached the boiling point over school finance. Six Democratic pick-ups in recent elections provided the fuel for the attempted coup with many Republicans fearing more electoral losses if there wasn’t a leadership change.
Pitts was done in by 15 Democrats who broke ranks with the Democratic Caucus, and 65 Republicans who could not find the courage to stare down the status quo. With the fear of retribution from Craddick and large money donors, the attempt to overthrow Craddick, for Republicans, hinged on whether or not the vote for Speaker would be a secret ballot or not. The vote to keep the ballot secret went down 80-68, and the writing was on the wall. Pitts withdrew his nomination for Speaker. You can find the vote tally that broke the coup’s back HERE. Demcoratic Caucus Chair, Jim Dunnam, released this statement on the day’s events.
Why was this race relevant to conservation voters? Pitts’ voting record on the environment is nothing to brag about. His lifetime TLCV legislative score is only 10%. But Craddick’s tenure as Speaker has produced a House that is incredibly hostile to environmental concerns in both ideology and process. Environmental bills that might have found bi-partisan support on the floor are not even allowed committee hearings. Potentially beneficial bills that make their way through the process for a floor vote are either stripped of their substantive value or strong-armed down to defeat. Bad bills supported by the polluter lobby are put to the front of the line and given preferential treatment. The financially powerful polluter-lobby has held Craddick’s ear and controlled the process. Maybe a small part of this is due to philosophical differences over the role of regulation, finances, etc., but that doesn’t go all the way in explaining the complete lack of access the blatant preferential treatment given to the polluters. When you’re faced with awful, change, any change, provides opportunity.
Moving forward … there is hope that this failed coup attempt will force Speaker Craddick to re-evaluate his leadership style. Perhaps Members – Republicans and Democrats alike – will be able to get their constituent’s very real environmental concerns heard, debated, and voted on. We can only hope …