Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pitts' Revolt Fizzles

Pitts Vs. Craddick: What Happened?

Jan 10, 2007

Cody Garrett
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN Tuesday’s high-stakes legislative showdown on the floor of the Texas House fell short of what had been promised -- despite weeks of campaigns by the candidates and a long day of maneuvers and wrangling by both sides about how the election would be conducted.

The widely anticipated, no-holds-barred vote for Speaker between incumbent Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie never materialized. Instead, the 149 members of the Texas House engaged in a series of complicated floor fights over whether or not members' votes would be made public.

Craddick's team had been insisting since the challenge was mounted that he had the votes to win in the weeks and days before Tuesday's battle. After being sworn in, Craddick said he wanted to hear from his colleagues about the quality of his leadership.

"If in some way I fall short… please tell me," Craddick told the House. "And I will do my best to correct that shortcoming."

Pitts announced he would withdraw his name from consideration just before 5:30 p.m., noting that he had been told by many of his supporters that they could only vote for him for the chamber's top job by secret ballot.

"You told me many times that if there was a ballot that was protected -- that was secret -- that you wanted to vote for Jim Pitts for Speaker," Pitts told the House. "That didn't happen today."

Pitts then withdrew his name and called for a healing process for the divided body.

"I will be voting for Tom Craddick for Speaker to begin this process of healing," he said.

The secret-ballot-versus-record-vote fight was prompted by what some members said were fears of retribution by the Speaker-elect (whether Pitts or Craddick) -- in terms of committee assignments or possibly drawing a well-funded primary opponent in 2008.

In the Texas House, as in most legislative bodies, members are loath to insult the leader (particularly on opening day) because that person has the power to assign members to committees and controls the flow of legislation. A misstep could doom a legislator's chances of serving in an area of his or her highest interest as well as decreasing the chances that a lawmaker's bills will become law.

Most members realized Craddick had the votes to win after a proposal by Charlie Geren, R-Ft. Worth -- that would have postponed the publication of how members voted for Speaker until after the Speaker-elect had made committee assignments.

Geren's amendment failed 80-68, with most the members who had publicly announced for Pitts voting 'Nay' and many members who had declared for 'Craddick' voting 'Aye.'

Political observers and reporters noted the breakdown of the vote -- the fact that former Speaker candidates Brian McCall, R-Plano and Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, found themselves on the short end of the vote along with Pitts and those publicly supporting him.

That initial failure to come up with the necessary 75 votes took the wind out of the sails of Pitts' revolt. The day quickly gave way to a Craddick landslide -- and a final, 121-27 record vote confirming Craddick's third term as speaker.

© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc.: