Sine Die Part 2: The House
The House ends the 80th session like it has been for weeks: divided, fighting over the rule book, and pointing fingers at Speaker Craddick.
By Richard Whittaker,
9:57AM, Tue. May 29, 2007
If the Senate left for summer vacation with a degree of decorum, it was up to the House to continue in its role as the best theatre in the state.
While senators rolled back to their offices, to sine die parties, and home, the representatives were still at their desks in the chamber. It was scarcely the bare-knuckle brawl of the last few days: There were hugs, presents, and farewells. Many were carrying posters with pictures of the members, swapping them to get signed like yearbooks. On the podium, the gavel had been handed to the daughter of Texas City Dem Rep. Craig Eiland, a Little Miss Sunshine look-alike who determinedly whacked the hammer down when requested.
If it looked like the session was going to end up like a Memorial Day cook-out, think again. First, there was a bloody, drawn-out fight over Senate Bill 3, a heavily debated water bill that its opponents claim infringes on landholder rights and treats the countryside as nothing more than a water bottle for the cities. Nasty as it got, it was all done by the time Senate got out. Everyone thought that, in half an hour, the whole mess would be over, and they could head to all those parties.
Not so. Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, knew that everyone was tired and that this was the perfect time for a bad bill to get passed – when no one was looking.
Determined to block SB 482, a too little, too late bill attempting to rein in the deregulated electricity industry, he pulled up obscure parliamentary point of order after point of order – dragging the debate to a standstill. While Speaker Tom Craddick's advisers ran to check the law books, the House was left hearing a long train of memorials and shout-outs to staff, family, friends, and constituents. And the clock ticked down to midnight.
In the midst of this, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, got in the last heavy punch of the session against Craddick by getting a motion passed honoring former Parliamentarian Denise Davis and her deputy, Christopher Griesel, both of whom resigned Friday in protest over the speaker's management of House affairs. Craddick claimed to have lost it, then said it wasn't the right time, then gutted it from some of the sections that most pointedly indicted him – but it still got through. And the clock ticked down to midnight.
Finally, Dunnam got his answer – yes, SB 482 was dead, due to procedural niceties. And the clock ticked down to midnight.
And so it ended. Bang on midnight, Craddick's gavel fell at the last possible second of the session. It was to a half-empty house – even most of the press was watching, not from front row, but from the media party down on Congress.