Monday, January 08, 2007

"This pattern of leading the House through coercion and intimidation has not produced a better Texas."

Letter captures changing tide

State Rep. Richard Raymond’s letter given to incumbent House Speaker Tom Craddick on Sunday. Raymond, a Democrat, represents Laredo.

January 8, 2007

Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

Dear Speaker Craddick,

As a young man growing up in Duval County, I saw first hand how corruption of the political process can erode the trust of the people. My parents and I, along with many others, experienced firsthand the wrath of those who lacked ethical standards and corrupted a system of governing, because we dared to change it. It was many years ago, but the memories are still vivid.

My desire to seek public office and much of my inspiration during my years as a public servant have been fueled by the responsibility to earn the trust of the public and justify the faith they place in those they elect. After hard reflection and serious reconsideration, I have concluded that my responsibility to work for an ethical and fair Texas House of Representatives requires that I withdraw my support from you in the race for Speaker and give it to our colleague Jim Pitts. In addition, if given the opportunity, I intend to vote to allow members of the House to cast their vote for Speaker confidentially.

I have simply lost confidence in your ability or willingness to make the changes necessary for the Texas House to function in an ethical and fair manner. Jim Pitts and I differ on many substantive issues. I believe, however, that his commitment to restore the highest ethical standards at the highest levels of government and to treat each Member with respect is sincere. I have known Jim Pitts since we arrived in the House together in 1993, and I believe his election to Speaker will give us the opportunity to end the current unacceptable era of corruption of the political process, which it appears you intend to continue.

My initial support for your re-election to Speaker was based upon the hope that you would recognize and embrace the need for reform in a third term. Your first two terms as Speaker were characterized by a lack of ethical standards and mean-spirited stubbornness. I felt certain that you would set a new tone and chart a new course.

Sadly, I have lost faith in your willingness to change. Your recent demand that supporters must not only reaffirm their commitment to you but also vote for an election process that leaves Members subject to intimidation and perhaps retaliation makes it apparent that a return to an ethical and civil House will not occur under your leadership.

When I was a teenager, my State Representative, Ernestine Glossbrenner, passed a law establishing a secret ballot vote for the citizens of Texas. She did so, because in Duval County, corrupt political leaders were able to determine how people voted during elections. If they didn’t vote “right,” they were often fired from their jobs or run out of town - literally. Given your recent maneuvering and efforts to manipulate the manner in which votes are cast in the race for Speaker, it seems that is what you now seek to do. Yours appears to be a modern day effort that rivals the worst of Duval County days past.

Whereas I strongly support recorded votes on every bill and amendment that appears before the House of Representatives, a secret ballot vote in the race for Speaker - an election in which we are voting for a leader, not voting on a substantive piece of legislation - would remove the type of intimidating tactics used in years past, when the process for the election of public officials did not allow citizens a truly secret ballot. I would also add, that were you confident of your colleagues confidence in you, you would also be confident in the outcome of a secret ballot vote. However, having thoughtfully discussed this race with over two dozen of my Republican colleagues, I now know you would lose a secret ballot race by an overwhelming margin, and, frankly, I now expect you to lose regardless of how we cast our votes.

As a Democrat, in purely partisan terms, you remaining Speaker may well be best for my party. Since you were elected Speaker in 2003, Democrats have gained seven seats in the House and stand just a half dozen seats short of claiming a majority. Time and again, you have forced Republican Members to cast votes that conflict with the interests and views of their constituents. These votes became useful issues for their Democratic opponents’ campaigns. Moreover, personal ethical controversy and your inflexible leadership style have created a DeLay-like public persona. In the same way that national Democrats easily vilified Congressional Republicans simply by associating them with Tom DeLay, it is easy to see you playing the same useful role for Democratic legislative candidates in 2008.

Furthermore, you have failed to encourage collegiality in the House by protecting members from the power elite representing special interests. Instead, you have caused members of the House, especially Republican members, to “walk the plank” for a radical agenda of just a few - and many of those members will no longer serve in this body. Simply put, this pattern of leading the House through coercion and intimidation has not produced a better Texas. Instead, it has made us weaker Texans, with House Members less worthy of the admiration and respect of fellow Texans. This corrosive atmosphere did not exist in the House before you became Speaker in 2003 - and it will no longer exist, once we elect a new Speaker.

Your own disregard for ethics and propriety fairly play into a comparison with DeLay. In addition to your constant attempts to help a small group of questionable interests, even at times over the interests of your own Republican colleagues, you invited controversy upon the House by soliciting and accepting funds from special interests to pay for lavish remodeling of the Speaker’s quarters in the Capitol. Disregarding the wishes of members from both parties, you blocked even the opportunity to debate an Ethics Reform bill in 2005. And in recent days, new charges arose involving you having an improper business relationship with a State contractor and that you have failed to disclose and the identity a business partner who is a registered lobbyist.

Now, as I write this, you are pressuring Republican House Members by having corporate CEOs “strongly urge” them to vote for you. Mr. Speaker, there must be an end to your style of corrupting the political process in this House - we owe it to every Texan we currently represent and to the generations to come.

Before any of us ever pledged to you or anyone else, we pledged to God that we would do the right thing for our state - it is the only pledge that matters. It is regrettable that with over thirty years experience in the House of Representatives, you have not seen this as a member’s highest obligation. I pray another Republican - Jim Pitts - will.

Richard Raymond

© 2007 Waxahachie Daily Light: