The Austin Chronicle

Keffer-D's, Solomons-D's, and Merritt-D's

By Richard Whittaker, December 15, 2008, 1:27pm, Newsdesk

Even though it looks like the position will be filled by a Republican, whoever wants to be House Speaker next session will have to woo some Democrats. Last time around, Speaker Tom Craddick depended on the famous Craddick D's: but with Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, getting the bulk of his caucus to sign his "Anyone But Craddick" pledge, there's some courting to be done.

Over the weekend, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, put out a press release saying that, under him, Democrats would get a better and fairer selection of committee chairs. With the House at 76-74, advantage GOP, giving the Dems some seats would seem less like a favor than facing reality. But the quickest way to win over Dems (and a bunch of anti-Craddick Republicans) may be promising to get rid of former Austin state rep and current Parliamentarian Terry Keel.

Speaker hopeful Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, (quickly followed by fellow candidates Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, and Tommy Merritt, R-Longview) issued a press release asking Keel to resign as parliamentarian before the beginning of the session. Having him stick around as interim parliamentarian for the first day of the session, Solomons wrote, is unnacceptable because he's "a polarizing figure with divided loyalties." Merritt and Jones simply accused him of being "more interested in serving Speaker Tom Craddick than serving the entire House."

Even Keffer took a shot in his statement, saying that all House officers should undergo review to ensure they weren't just speaker loyalists.

Keel has been a massively unpopular parliamentarian since day one (The only reason he got the job was because previous parliamentarian Denise Davis resigned when Craddick ignored her opinion that he didn't have the power to ignore motions from the floor. Keel moved in and rubber-stamped the idea of absolute power for the speaker.) There's deep concern that an obstructionist Keel would be a blight on the House, using his position to block legislation and carry out vendettas.

Not everyone is anti-Keel. Houston Democrat (and Craddick D) Rep. Harold Dutton quickly issued a letter saying that Solomons didn't speak for him. Legislative historians may note that one of Keel's last jobs before becoming parliamentarian was representing Dutton in a DWI case.

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.