Craddick Foes Prefer Secret Ballot in Speaker's Race
House members try to outsmart Craddick in laying ground rules for choosing a speaker
The lack of a secret ballot was widely seen as derailing the 2007 speaker challenge mounted by Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie (too few reps were prepared to publicly oppose Craddick), but Merritt wants one now. "Everyone uses sealed ballots," he said. "The Republican caucus uses a sealed ballot, and the Republican Party uses a sealed ballot to select convention delegates." He's proposed a rule-setting speaker candidate summit on Dec. 17, at which he hopes to get everyone to stand by last session's House resolution standardizing the speaker selection process. "We spelled out the criteria for a sealed ballot," Merritt said, "and hopefully we can get a consensus from the membership before the session."
Craddick has not commented, but his staff has. Press secretary Alexis DeLee told the San Antonio Express-News that any ballot "will have to be open if requested by three members." Craddick's parliamentarian Terry Keel said the secretary of state gets to decide the rules on the opening day. House Democratic caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, gave both comments short shrift and issued a memo stating precedents for a secret ballot, even if the House decides not to have one. "I'm not necessarily advocating that," said Dunnam, who added he was simply responding to "an inaccurate statement" from DeLee. As for Keel, Dunnam was dismissive. "Terry Keel is not a member of the Legislature," he said, "and his duties are over."
But there's a new factor. Since 1973, the Speaker Statute had barred any political campaign expenditure on a speaker race, on the principle that it was House business. In August, the Texas Eagle Forum political action committee, the ACLU, and the Free Market Foundation got the ban overturned in federal court on grounds that it was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, e-mails and letters are circulating from Empower Texans PAC and Texas Republican County Chairmen's Association President Linda Rogers, among others, accusing Craddick's opponents of being too liberal.