Craddick Foes Prefer Secret Ballot in Speaker's Race

House members try to outsmart Craddick in laying ground rules for choosing a speaker

With a month to go before the next Lege session, the expected high elbows in the race to become the new House speaker have started. There are no new candidates (10 hopefuls seems plenty), and no clear lead challenger to Speaker Tom Craddick has emerged (although the biggest buzz centers on three names: Jim Keffer, R-Eastland; Tommy Merritt, R-Longview; and Burt Solo­mons, R-Carrollton). So now the argument is about the selection process and whether there should be a secret ballot.

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.

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Tom Craddick, Tommy Merritt, Burt Solomons, Jim Keffer

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