Craddick Term II Begins

Craddick Term II Begins

he future is what we make of it.” That’s the sentence that stays with me from Rep. Beverly Woolley’s speech nominating Tom Craddick for a second term as speaker of the Texas House. It was Tuesday, January 11, the opening day of the 79th Legislature. Woolley was the first of six to nominate the 35-year house veteran. He had no opposition. When a 25-year-old Craddick started his first House term in 1969, there were only seven Republicans. Today none but Craddick remain from the ‘69 GOP class. (Fortunately, the Observer didn’t do a freshmen-to-watch feature (page 4) back in ‘69.) Last session, after years of trying, Craddick became the first Texas Republican elected speaker in 130 years. It’s hard to say how many in the packed chamber who gathered together to witness the investiture knew the irony behind the choice of Woolley as the first nominator. Monday—a little more than 24 hours earlier—the Houston Republican had been deposed in a civil lawsuit over her role in Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC). Woolley had been a board member for the organization founded by Craddick’s good friend, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land), and created to put the Midland Republican in the speaker’s chair. All the interests coalesced for Craddick in 2002. Legislative redistricting had set the stage. Powerful economic interests wanted a bigger bite than they could get under a Pete Laney speakership. They’d start with tort reform but they wouldn’t stop there. DeLay needed his congressional redistricting. On the campaign trail, they’d attack from a number of fronts using national and local groups. It would require money, but thanks to DeLay and the promise of a pliant Legislature, it was available—corporate cash that can’t legally be spent on electioneering. But Craddick burned for his prize. He wanted it badly enough to fly all over the state to meet members; he personally delivered checks, and—a grand jury is no doubt trying to decide—he may have wanted it badly enough to break the law. Woolley would do her part to ensure that her “good friend” Tom Craddick would become speaker. On September 9, 2002 she accompanied TRMPAC fundraiser Susan Lilly trolling for dollars in Houston’s corporate board rooms. (See, “Rate of Exchange,” March 12, 2004). A memo from the trip lists the amounts pledged—mainly by energy and banking executives—for campaign contributions and the legislation apparently promised in return. And in 2003, a robotic-like Republican House, managed bluntly and sometimes dictatorially by Tom Craddick, passed the legislation. The losers in this astounding power play were ordinary Texans. The new laws—written by and for cronies—tend to screw consumers in fields like banking, energy, real estate, and insurance, to name but a few industries. “The future is what we make of it.” If Craddick, Woolley, and the other alleged scofflaws such as former gubernatorial chief-of-staff Mike Toomey and Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond are indicted, and convicted, it will be the result of reforms enacted precisely to prevent this type of corporate cronyism. More than a century ago, lawmakers legislated against the malefactors of great wealth, which they recognized tends to corrupt the system and fleece the public. Seventy years later, after the Sharpstown banking scandal, reform-minded legislators passed measures to stop the big dogs from buying a speaker and a majority of the members. (See, “Scandal in the Speaker’s Office,” February 27, 2004). What united these reformers was the knowledge of just how easy is it to slip from “the future is what we make of it” to “the ends justify the means.” —JB

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Published at 12:00 am CST