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Rep. Jim Pitts steps in against Craddick

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ERIC CORNELISON
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AUSTIN - Leaders of the movement to oust House Speaker Tom Craddick during the legislative session declared defeat late Sunday, saying that while they could not get past his absolutist rulings on his own powers, the race to be House speaker in 2009 has already begun.

'I don't think this is an obituary' for the movement, said Rep. Fred Hill, a Richardson Republican and committee chairman who plans to run against Craddick. 'It's just the first act. You're going to have 18 months to play out the scenario.'

Representative Jim Pitts of Waxahachie said, 'I filed my paperwork to run for Speaker of the House to ensure that I was complying with all of the applicable laws.

'I believe now, as I did in January, that it is time for a change in leadership.

'I believe we have strayed too far from the House I knew, where members were free to represent their districts and legislation advanced on its merits alone.

'I look forward to working with my colleagues to return to this approach and address the major issues facing Texas.'

Nearly 60 lawmakers opposed to Craddick staged a dramatic walkout to protest the speaker's refusal to allow a vote on his fate.

The walkout, which broke a quorum and forced the House to adjourn, followed a dramatic but nonbinding roll call vote by Rep. Pat Haggerty, who asked to make a personal privilege speech and then began calling members' names and asking them to cast their votes on whether Craddick should stay.

Haggarty urged all who would have voted against Craddick to 'take your key and walk out.'

Any serious effort to remove Craddick before the session ends Monday appeared dead.

After an uprising Friday night, the speaker and his aides maintained confrontational grilling on the House floor, saying there's no right for members to do so and that the speaker has 'absolute power' to rebuff an request or motion by a member of the House.

Opponents tried again on Sunday, offering several inquiries which tried to pin down the extent of Craddick's arguments but were left with no appeal, no avenue to override him and no way around the concrete, impenetrable stand and Craddick always has the last word.

They argued nothing in state precedent, congressional precedent or, for that matter, American history gave the speaker absolute authority.

'This interpretation of our rules has erected a wall between the leadership and the membership,' said House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee of Round Rock, on of several House chairmen who began the session supporting Craddick and ended it vowing to replace him. Previously, Krusee had stated, 'When the speaker rules that he can overrule all the House rules, where do you go?' Craddick supporters applauded the effort's passing, saying it was time to move on.

Throughout the weekend, they lamented the time spent on House politics, saying it took away time from important legislative matters as time dwindled in the session. The concessions by Craddick opponents apparently brought to a close, for the time being, an extraordinary fight over one of the most powerful positions in state government. 'I joined my colleagues last week, as I did in January, in calling for new leadership in the House of Representatives,' said Pitts.

'I, and many other members, are disturbed by the Speaker Craddick's continued abuse of the authority of his office. Despite assurances this January that he would heed the message sent to him on January 9, Speaker Craddick continued to use his position to force millions of dollars in unnecessary projects into the state budget, twist legislation to meet the needs of special interests and micro-manage the work of committees. 'Most disturbingly, Speaker Craddick took the House down a dangerous new path by re-interpreting the rules to stat that he and he alone has absolute authority to recognize members for any purpose.

'This interpretation is without precedent and goes beyond even the hyper-partisan environment of the US Congress.

It is obvious that speaker Craddick made this decision for one purpose and one purpose only to ensure his own fragile hold on his office.'

The House speaker controls the chamber and the political and legislative fates of its members and has enormous sway over state policy.

It became clear as the weekend wore on a court case was out of the question, at least during the session, given the short amount of time left in the sessions and a court's likely reluctance to intercede in the Legislature's internal business.

The budget ultimately was approved late Sunday.

Craddick has declined comment on speaker politics, other than to say the group was playing politics, pushing a personal agenda. Every conversation, every vote, every moment one of the dissidents stepped up to a microphone carried the weight of a possible speaker's race. Even the Senate got sucked into the controversy, with the Senate's chief budget writer saying the House was going to have to figure out the fate of the speaker before the chamber would move on the bill.

House members have increasingly been frustrated with Craddick's strict control over the house and when he made an unpopular ruling on a matter of the House weeks ago and members voted to overrule him, the members' dissatisfaction only grew. Now, Craddick opponents are looking to 2009 and already five Republicans say they plan to challenge Craddick for speaker. 'The effort to provide the House new leadership and to restore the importance of members in the process will have to wait until January, 2009,' said Pitts.

'Í leave Austin confident that the actions of myself and my colleagues during this session were in the best interests of this chamber, the democratic process and the state of Texas.'

Once the new House convenes in 2009, there will be big fights over the speakership and the chamber's rules.

Opponents of Craddick have said their fight has shown some of Craddick's allies it was time for a change in leadership and in itself, was a victory.

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