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New Speaker Joe Straus with his wife Julie. photo by Chris Carson Turner said. “If you’re on the other end of it, it’s easy to find who the target is because he was the general and the lieutenant. Don’t make your circle so small that you’re not hearing the voices of many others. I think when leaders do that, then they become very time-limited. “My advice is always to listen to the heartbeat of the members on the floor. Members have a way of letting you know ahead of time, and you’ve got to listen. If, for example, I come to you, and I say, look, people are really having heartburn on this issue and its not just from one party. They’ll vote [on this issue] if they have to, but they really don’t want to. I think sometimes you have to conclude that this is not a measure that should move forward. If you try to force it, it may pass, but it passes with a price. The next [bill] that’s being met with some reluctance, that may pass too, but you pay a price. The third one may not pass. The fourth one may not pass. When it starts getting like that, when things are not passing, it’s almost like there’s been a tear [in the House]. Hard to put that together again:” For Craddick, it was, finally, impossible. In person, Tom Craddick doesn’t resemble the domineering political fig ure described by his critics. He is soft-spoken. On the speaker’s dais, he frequently mumbled, and occasionally stuttered and slurred through his pronouncements. At receptions, he wouldn’t dominate the room so much as be swallowed by it. Physically imposing he’s nota short, slightly hunched-over, meek-looking man. Craddick also is a teetotaler. It’s not just late-night drinks that he eschews. He’s been known to attend fund-raisers and not touch the steak. His one vice is about as wholesome as it gets: chocolate. “He’s a good, sound Christian fellow. There’s no reason to ever not like Tom Craddick,” said Warren Chisum, a Panhandle Republican who served as House Appropriations Committee chair last session and is one of Craddick’s closest friends in the House. “He’s unyielding in his goals. But you sit down to talk to him, he’s not vindictive. He understands that you may disagree sometimes.” Craddick often talked about changing his governing style.. It wouldn’t have required mucha gentler hand at certain times, delegating some power, listening to his colleaguesto remain speaker. The enduring question is, why didn’t he make t hose changes? Some of his critics thought him incapable of governing differently. “The leopard can’t change his spots,” as Dunnam put it. That thinking sells short Craddick’s considerable political kills. Rather, it seems he didn’t change his ways because he imply didn’t want to. “If his only purpose in life was to remain speaker, then yes, he could have just gone with the flow:’ Chisum said. “That wasn’t his purpose in life. His purpose was to do what was best for the state and grow our economy. That’s the role he chose to play.” In the end, perhaps, implementing his ideology was more mportant to Craddick than remaining speaker. He spent six years trying to remold the state in his ultra-conservative image. His supporters praise Craddick for holding spending down and keeping taxes low, which they say helped fuel the economy. In the early years, Craddick pushed through legislation backed by the corporate interests that had bankrolled his rise to speaker. He passed one of the strictest so-called tort reform laws in the country, limiting lawsuit awards to $250,000. The law has made suing doctors, hospitals and, in particular, abusive nursing homes, much more difficult. He engineered a bill that deregulated tuition at the state’s universitiesa measure desired by regents at the University of Texas, who were major Craddick supporters. As a result, tuition at Texas’ colleges has risen an average of 58 percent. At some schools, it has more than doubled. To close a deficit in 2003, Craddick’s budget cut more than 200,000 kids from the Children’s Health Insurance Program cuts that were partially restored in 2007, but not before they contributed to the estimated 1.5 million children in Texas who lack health insurance. He passed bills that restricted access to abortion, and he helped institute a constitutional ban on both gay marriage and civil unions. He passed a bureaucratic reorganization of the Health and Human Services Commission that laid off thousands of state workers and privatized several key programs. He blocked nearly any bill limiting air pollution or reducing the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming. Craddick poured precious little new money into public schools. It’s this recordfor better or worsethat will be Tom Craddick’s legacy. JANUARY 23, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23