Dingus vs. Dems ... vs. Craddick?

Sometimes the best way to thwart the Republicans is to sue the Democrats

Tom Craddick
Tom Craddick (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Bill Dingus wants so badly to challenge Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick for his seat that he's suing the Texas Democratic Party in Travis Co. district court. What he wants is to stay on the ballot the party put him on and which they are fighting hard in a separate case to keep him on (yes, you read that right). "The reason for the suit is that the Republican Party is saying he's ineligible," said Dingus' attorney Renea Hicks. "The reason the Democrats are being sued is that they are the ones that can make that determination."

Bill Dingus
Bill Dingus

This is just the latest twist in a series of legal maneuvers centering around the Midland Democrat's eligibility to run in November for Craddick's House District 82 seat – all coming from the Democrats. At issue is Article III, Section 19, of the Texas Constitution, barring candidates from running for one lucrative office while holding another. When Dingus filed to run, he was still a member of the Midland City Council. While Democrats do not claim that council member and state rep aren't lucrative offices, they argue that a 1996 case, League of United Latin American Citizens and the Black Advisory Council v. City of Midland, gave the West Texas city an exemption. The Democrats took that argument to court in a pre-emptive attempt to block any future moves by the GOP to get Dingus off the ballot: On April 15, Judge Walter Smith Jr. of the U.S. Western District said that the LULAC ruling did not apply here. However, while Republicans have questioned his eligibility and may yet challenge it, no one has actually tried to get Dingus off the ballot, leaving him in electoral limbo. Dingus resigned fron the Midland City Council on April 21, and the Democrats are appealing Smith's decision. Meanwhile, Dingus' new filing, Hicks said, is to ensure "that the issue be resolved once and for all."

The Texas Democratic Party is "looking at the lawsuit and considering all legal options," said spokesman Hector Nieto. But this case could work to its advantage, since both Dingus and the party want the same thing: Dingus challenging Craddick in November. It also means the Republicans cannot get involved, since they are not (in legal parlance) the entity facing harm. That would be Craddick, who so far has been quiet on this in-house Democratic activity. If the Dems and Dingus can get a judge to say that he's on the ballot legally, it would be hard for Republicans to challenge that later.

If he can stay on the ballot, Dingus will be Craddick's first general election challenger since Democrat Gilberto Garcia was blown out with only 22% in 2000. If he fails, still running is Libertarian Sherry Phillips.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Bill Dingus, Tom Craddick, House of Representatives, District 82, election, Texas Democratic Party

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