Naked City

Dems' Mixed Messages

In the immediate wake of the election, Texas House Democrats released a statement applauding their "historic gain," even while President Bush carried 60% in Texas. "For the first time in more than 30 years," said caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, "Democrats have a net gain in the Texas House." With the apparent defeat – pending a recount and potential challenge – of Appropriations Committee Chair Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, the Dems got their first pickup (one seat, to 87-63) since 1972. The statement, co-signed by Reps. Pete Gallego of Alpine and Garnet Coleman of Houston, notes that in all, eight members of House Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team were defeated – including former Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (who lost her CD 17 congressional race to incumbent Dem Chet Edwards) and Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, who lost in the Democratic primary to former State Board of Education member Alma Allen.

The statement goes on to speculate that the election may mean a weakening of Craddick's power, a restoration of the "bipartisan tradition" of Bob Bullock and Pete Laney, and even the possibility of Craddick losing the speakership. "I have a lot of Republican friends and colleagues in the Texas House," concludes Dunnam, "and I can tell you with 100% certainty that many of them are asking themselves, and asking each other, how much longer can they afford to keep the current speaker of the Texas House."

Apparently, the answer is "a little longer." The next day Craddick released a list of 119 House members pledged to support his re-election, including every Republican as well as 32 Democrats. Some of the latter names were predictable – conservative rural Dems, or other Craddick chairs like Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, and Norma Chavez, D-El Paso. But others were not – for example, Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, an outspoken leader in the fight against re-redistricting. The Central Texas Dem delegation is represented on the Craddick list by not only Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs (no surprise), but also by Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, often a firebrand in opposition and an unlikely Craddickcrat. Asked about her pledge, Dukes said bluntly, "Let's be realistic. No one else was going to be elected speaker, and this is about doing what's best for your constituency."

Dukes noted that there is a bipartisan House tradition of supporting the presumptive speaker – "everyone pledged with Laney every time" – and that she told Craddick when he requested her pledge that she would still take the same positions on legislation, and that she was promised nothing in return. "This is about being realistic," she repeated. "Craddick is going to be the speaker for the foreseeable future, and this is about doing what's best for my constituency."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Talmadge Heflin, Pete Gallego, Garnet Coleman, Alma Allen, Jim Dunnam, Craig Eiland, Dawnna Dukes

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