Full disclosure: I was Chief of Staff for Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) during the 80th Regular Session. That experience, as biased as that may make me, is the only reason I know this story. So as you consider whether or not I should be writing about the Speaker's race at all, please weigh the value of honest stories like this one.
Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) wrote this in the comments section of one of Paul Burka's posts:
The strife has little to do with Tom Craddick’s style of government (which was remarkably lenient, overall, last session), and everything to do with destroying obstacles to Democrats’ regaining control of the House.
Tom Craddick's style of government is not lenient; it is one where the game is rigged.
The other style -- advocated for by Republicans and Democrats alike -- is one where fairness and honesty matters.
Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) is a good foot soldier for Speaker Craddick, and I don't begrudge him advocating for the person he believes is best suited to be Speaker. However, he knows Craddick's style of government is one where the game is rigged. Rep. Hartnett worked with Speaker Craddick to rig the game last session -- before the opening gavel ever came down on the first day of session.
I know, because I was there. Here's the story:
What's At Stake: How Does the House Elect a Speaker?
The first day of the 80th Regular Session was Tuesday, January 9, 2007.
At 4:30pm on Monday, Janaury 8, Rep. Coleman learned the game was rigged.
Walking through the basement of the Capitol building, Rep. Coleman ran into Rep. Hartnett. In their exchange, Rep. Hartnett boasted that his resolution for how to elect a Speaker --- what rules would apply --- would be the first one up on Tuesday. From that exchange, Rep. Coleman came back into his office.
"Get the Secretary of State on the phone," Rep. Coleman asked me.
While the Secretary of State was otherwise detained, two of the high-ranking members of the agency were in the building, and immediately came to meet with Rep. Coleman in his office in person. I let them into his private office.
Forty-five minutes later, they walked out. I asked what happened.
"They're trying to rig the order of what happens tomorrow, and I just told them they can't do that," Rep. Coleman told me. "Tomorrow, it has to be fair. May not be fair again the rest of the session, but tomorrow, it has to be fair."
Opening the Day: Who Is Running the Show?
A democracy is a system in which the power lies within the citizens who elect people to represent them.
--Roger Williams, Texas Secretary of State. January 9, 2007
Before a Speaker is chosen, the Secretary of State serves as the presiding officer in the Texas House.
There is no formal House rule, state law, or constitutional provision that prescribes what resolution comes up first. If the Secretary of State's office had agreed to follow Speaker Craddick & Rep. Hartnett's lead, then they were operating outside of the input of the other 148 Members of the Texas House.
Simply put: that is rigging the game. That's acting without any principle of fairness.
If the Secretary of State brought Rep. Hartnett's resolution up first -- absent any law, rule, or provision giving him the authority to -- then the entire election process of the Speaker of the House would have been based on a rigged game.
Rep. Coleman made sure the Secretary of State's office knew that. And it got back to Rep. Hartnett, and the Speaker's office, and they realized that they could not go forward with the game set up the way they wanted. So instead, the next day, there were extensive delays (those watching the House proceedings will remember this) as they tried to figure out what to do.
You know what ended up happening? They flipped a coin. It was the only fair way.
And Rep. Hartnett won the coin toss.
The Moral of the Story: Fairness Matters
Did the decision of whose resolution came up first affect the Speaker's race? I'm 99% sure the question to that is "no." But it did delay the procedures for several hours, while Craddick & his top lieutenants tried to figure out how to operate under a system of fairness.
It was an amazing, behind-the-scenes precedent for what would transpire late in the Session, when the interpretation of House Rule 5.24 became the hallmark decision of Craddick's style of government. Quite simply, the question was always:
When the House sets is own rules of governance, how do you define fair?
And that is the great lesson from this story: whatever Craddick and his top lieutenants like Rep. Hartnett may try and tell Members over the next few weeks, they cannot for a second believe that Tom Craddick will operate under a fair system of government. He will always, always, try to rig the game in his favor.
Even if its something as simple and silly as whose resolution comes up first, Craddick will try and control the system. He will not promote what is fair (a coin toss, in this case). He will promote what works best for him.
Craddick's disposal of fairness for his own personal benefit is the fundamental problem Democrats and Republicans have with him as Speaker. Speaker Craddick -- as he has always done and always will do -- was promoting a system that he could control, from beginning to end, and one where the principle of fairness was obsolete.
So why does fairness matter? Here's why:
- There are a large group of Republicans that want to keep winning elections, and believe a Republican should be elected Speaker.
- There are a large group of Democrats that want to keep winning elections, and believe a Democrat should be elected Speaker.
- The swing vote -- made up of Democrats and Republicans -- that will decide who is Speaker just want the process to be fair.
When you hear a discussion of, "how the House used to be" it's never a longing for bipartisan days. Democrats and Republicans will always fight on issues -- its the only way democracy can work.
But the 150 Members who are chosen to serve as Representatives to the Texas House deserve a fair process to govern themselves. That is what the "swing vote" of Members are looking for. That is what Rep. Coleman demanded two years ago.
And that is what Speaker Tom Craddick will never, ever allow.