Texas Speaker of the House refuses to give up his post

Sunday, May 27, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas -- With his political career in jeopardy, powerful state House Speaker Tom Craddick charged through a rebellion that lasted into early Saturday, refusing to give up his leadership post.

By the time the House adjourned shortly before 1:30 a.m., Craddick had beaten back his opponents, lawmakers who tried to overtake the speaker's podium were physically restrained and the House parliamentarian resigned.

Lawmakers resumed business late Saturday morning with the veteran Republican still presiding over the chamber.

Democrats and Republicans alike complain that Craddick has ruled with an iron fist. They say his win-at-all-cost style often forces them to vote against the interests of their own districts.

Craddick's third two-year term does not expire until the next legislative session convenes in January 2009, but discontent in the chamber is fueling a plot to force him out before the session ends Monday. In the last week, four Republicans, including Rep. Fred Hill, have filed their candidacies to be speaker if Craddick is ousted.

Capping a week of simmering discord, Hill made a request Friday night that would allow the 150-member chamber to vote to oust Craddick. Craddick refused to recognize Hill to make the motion.

Hill then asked to allow the House to vote to appeal the decision. "The speaker's discretion to recognize a member on a motion on any matter is unappealable," Craddick responded.

The House melted down when Craddick announced a two-hour break to escape pointed questions about his leadership.

The House broke out in a cacophony of boos as lawmakers swept to the front of the chamber and Craddick, often called the most powerful man in state government, hustled back to his office suite.

Democrats trying to overtake the speaker's podium were physically restrained by House sergeants-at-arms as they tried to grab the microphone.

"It is clearly an abuse of power and of office," Republican Rep. Todd Smith of Bedford said later.

Denise Davis, the House parliamentarian, resigned over the incident, according to a statement from Craddick. His spokeswoman later confirmed that assistant parliamentarian Christopher Griesel had resigned as well.

After the session reconvened, Craddick threw up a roadblock to his opponents when he told a Democrat that an effort to unseat him would be impossible under the House rules.

To oust Craddick before his term is up, a lawmaker must make a parliamentary maneuver known as a motion to vacate, and a majority of the House must vote in favor of it.

It's called a privileged motion, and a lawmaker must be recognized by the speaker before he or she may speak to the House to make such a motion. The issue Friday night was whether Craddick was obligated to allow lawmakers to speak if they wanted to.

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