Friday, January 05, 2007

"Dethroning Craddick would seem like a righteous reckoning. "


Flush with victory?


David Lowery
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

There is a lot of back room scheming and horse-trading going on in the challenge to Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, and good reasons for all of it.

There's the speaker's power to appoint committee heads and have them do his bidding if they want to keep their jobs. There's the lofty seat up there on the podium, and the big gavel to wield with authority when things get a little rowdy on the floor.

There's power over the budget, setting the agenda for the state, making and breaking political careers, blah, blah, blah.

What's really important in the speaker's race is who gets to live in the fine new digs Craddick and his wife Nadine have fixed up in the Capitol.

Forget muscle and prestige — what matters when the speaker is chosen Jan. 9 is who gets to live in the Speaker's Apartment.

The Craddicks spent more than $1 million renovating the 2,000-square-foot apartment in the Capitol (the nation's only living quarters in a state capitol).

It wasn't their money, you'll recall, but they still had to twist some arms and box some ears to get it.

And now, after all the grief they've endured and work they've done choosing the proper drapes and such, they may not get to live in it any longer.

To Craddick's political enemies, his dethroning would seem like a righteous reckoning. They'll see his being tossed out of the apartment during the final touches as just reward for his hubris. The Craddicks' stuff won't be stacked on the lawn like some deadbeat renter's, but it's an image his opponents must treasure.

A lot of Texans have wondered about those $1,000 toilets in the speaker's pad. And the $7,000 refrigerator, the $1,400 washing machine and the $36,000 New Zealand wool carpets that were ordered, only to be cut up for area rugs after it was decided hardwood floors would look better.

Not just any old boards would do for the Speaker's Apartment floors, either. The Craddicks thought original wood from the 1880s and 1890s would go best in their redone crib, so they ordered it up at a cost of $87,000.

Now, no one would be happy about being evicted from his domicile after going through all the work it takes to find the right carpets to chop up, the matching window treatments, hand-crafted knobs, $1,000 toilets and all the other headaches.

That is surely one of the reasons Craddick is not going to leave the speaker's post without putting up a heckuva fight.

But the folks who really will be upset if the Craddicks get the boot from their abode are the lobbyists who paid for the extreme makeover.

After some lawmakers groused about the project, Craddick said he'd seek private donations to fix up the place. That meant he would milk the necessary cash from the lobbyists for special interests. After all, it's their job is to seek favors from the Legislature and his job to grant or deny them.

Lobbyists for special interests such as AT&T, Maxxam Inc., the beer distributors and other big players who have a lot of business at the Capitol came across with the dough. They didn't have much choice if they want the speaker's ear this session.

But how are they going to feel if the members give Craddick the boot? Not too sprightly, I imagine, after they were pushed to the pay window and told to put $1 million on the No. 1 horse to win — or else.

So those lobbyists' money will have been flushed down the expensive toilets if Craddick loses power. Not only that, but under a different speaker, it might be awhile before their Guccis touch the fancy rugs and aged hardwood floors that they paid for.

Oh, they would get up there eventually, but it would cost them. They'd have to spread some more special interest money around for the new speaker and the new committee leaders.

That's how the game is played.

But they'd be in good company if they never make it inside the second-floor apartment.

Most Texans won't get that far, even though it sort of belongs to them. The Craddicks said the redo is "a gift to all Texans," but they haven't let the press in for a gander and won't answer questions about it.

Craddick may well win re-election as speaker and be able to settle into the apartment comfortably for a couple of years.

If Craddick loses, though, the new speaker should hold an open house to show off the refurbished crib. He could do it up right, with a rope line, attendants and docents to point out the more interesting features of this gift to all Texans.

After the intrigue in the speaker's race and questions about the apartment, I'd stand in line to see it.; 445-3611

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: