The media is a’ flutter with news that 11 Republican members have chosen someone they want to replace incumbent House Speaker Tom Craddick (apparently the remaining 65 are happy with Craddick), and that these “anybody but Craddick” Republicans are working to get 64 Democrats who dislike Craddick to vote for their man (apparently the 10 Democrats remaining like Craddick). Confused? It’s hard to pin down the shifting alliances in the Texas House, and Texas taxpayers should be careful about too readily embracing any of them. These people are all politicians, let us not forget.
The “anybody but Craddick” Republican speaker candidate is Joe Straus, a one-and-a-half term legislator from an uber-wealthy San Antonio family. He scored a 71.43 on our Fiscal Responsibility Index — 3.57 points short of the House Republican average of 75.01. (House Speakers traditionally do not vote on legislation, so Craddick has no score on our Index.)
But Straus was also the author of HB735 — legislation that eliminated the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund tax; a tax that had long outlived its usefulness. Some had tried in the past to do it, but Straus succeeded.
Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility is not involved in the speaker’s race — at least not at this time. The issues in the race surround House operations and not (at this point, at least) taxes and spending.
But all Texans should be rightly concerned by some of the issues surrounding this race.
Most disturbing are calls from some legislators to cast their ballot for speaker hidden from public review. Our organization has made government openness and transparency a cornerstone of our work, and hiding votes from the public is unconscionable. We want lawmakers taking more — not fewer — recorded votes so citizens can better judge their performance. Closing the speaker race to citizen review is going in the wrong direction for Texas.
Politically, Democrats might want to understand why their lawmakers hoisting a novice Republican to the third-highest position in the state. Republicans might have questions about a speaker elected by a majority of Democrats, even when Republicans control the chamber.
Those questions — and more of greater substance — can only be answered when the votes are cast in the full light of day on Tuesday, Jan. 13.
While the role of the House Speaker is focused mostly on internal operations and administration, the position does wield significant influence over the future of Texas. From the state’s first Speaker (William Crump of Bellville) to Craddick’s predecessor (Pete Laney of Hale Center), House Speakers have used their gavel to mold and direct public policy outcomes.
Some suggest that a House Speaker should not be an ideological choice. Hogwash! Every position someone takes is driven by their ideology.
As taxpayers we should demand that our state representatives elect a leader of the House who will ensure legislation providing property tax reforms and spending restraint get full Committee hearings and recorded floor votes.
The Speaker of the House works for the people of Texas, and taxpayers have a right to expect and demand that their lawmakers select a speaker who will work consistently in our best interest.