Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mike Krusee is expected to return as Chairman of the House Transportation Committee

House awaits committee assignments

Speaker expected to announce his picks later this week

January 24, 2007

By Laylan Copelin
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Texas House members are anticipating their committee assignments by the end of the week, although Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has not said when he will announce his appointments.

Trying to balance the wishes of 149 House members is always difficult, but there is sharper focus on Craddick's choices this session given the heated battle over his re-election two weeks ago.

The 68 members who voted against him on a key procedural vote are wondering what price they will pay for their failed coup. Yet Craddick has insisted he heard the complaints about his tight hold on the leadership reins and he will listen to members more this session.

Former Speaker Pete Laney, now retired, said a House leader has too few options to make everyone happy. There are about 40 chairmanships.

"You only have a certain number of positions to fill," Laney said. "You've got to take care of the ones who supported you."

But the message from within Craddick's circle is that members shouldn't expect "draconian" retaliation for backing Craddick's opposition.

For the Central Texas delegation, Reps. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, and Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, are pretty much set.

Expect Krusee to continue leading the House Transportation Committee, where the state's toll road program will remain a point of contention. Gattis is likely to keep his coveted assignment to Appropriations, the committee that oversees state spending. The only question is whether he will slide off of State Affairs, another prominent committee, to Natural Resources because of the importance of water issues.

The more intriguing question is what happens to the two Central Texas Democrats who supported Craddick: Dawnna Dukes of Austin and Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs.

Dukes is already on Appropriations. It's unlikely she will be the next Vilma Luna, the Corpus Christi Democrat who served as vice chairwoman of that committee until her retirement last year.

But leading the Appropriation's subcommittee on health and human services would dovetail with her legislative agenda and her Travis County district.

Another possibility might be scrutinizing state contracts, particularly on the children's health insurance front, as chairwoman of the General Investigating Committee.

Although Rose is vice chairman of the Civil Practices Committee, don't expect him to lead the panel. Rose probably will move on after four years of refereeing fights between trial lawyers and business owners over ground rules for lawsuits.

Rose likely would remain on higher education because Texas State University is in his district and he has championed student financial aid. But his reward for supporting Craddick remains a mystery.

There are many options. As many as one-fourth of the 40 committee chairmanships could change hands, either because of the November elections or because the chairmen opposed Craddick's re-election as speaker.

The other members of the Travis County delegation backed Craddick's opponent, so they are unlikely to assume leadership roles. They will focus on trying to get assigned to committees that match their personal and legislative interests.

Seniority can assist long-term members. Half of the committee assignments, except Appropriations, are doled out based on seniority.

With 16 years, Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, is the longest-serving member from Travis County. His seniority should keep him on Health and Human Services, a committee he once led.

The all-important Appropriations committee was led by Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who failed in his bid, along with Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, to unseat Craddick.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, is considered the front-runner to become Appropriations chairman, but others have applied.

Chisum worked hard for Craddick's re-election and has 18 years in the House. He's also been the point man for social conservatives on legislation dealing with abortion rights or banning same-sex marriages.

Speculation among House members is that Craddick can't — or won't — punish everyone who opposed him. Pitts may remain as a member of the Appropriations Committee he once led.

Even if Pitts and McCall were handed their heads, key lieutenants might fare better: Reps. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, or Alan Ritter, D-Nederland, for example.

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