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Speaker's Race: Rep. Will Hartnett (R) & Rigging the Game


by: Phillip Martin

Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 00:22 PM CST


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.

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Excellent analysis (0.00 / 0)
When you ask "whether or not I should be writing about the Speaker's race at all," please count me among those who think we'd all be less well informed if you made the easy decision to keep quiet with your insights.

Like most of us who rejoiced that Sarah Palin would not be our Vice President, I consider a well informed voter to be a better citizen and a more responsible voter.


All is fair in love and politics... (0.00 / 0)
And if the Democrats had control of the House no doubt the Democratic speaker would do the same thing and just as Will Harnett probably pulled a two-headed coin out of his pocket, Garnet Coleman would probably do the same thing.



[ Parent ]
nice post (0.00 / 0)
very interesting to see the behind the scenes.

i agree: most members want the House to determine the fate of the House...not one man or woman.

the speaker's job as the chair is to fairly administer the rules and procedures of the House. that did not happen in the last session.

keep writing. we're reading.

Please refer to KT's signature.


Nice Try (0.00 / 0)
Phillip, I enjoy reading the Burnt Orange Report, and think it does a public service by providing insightful political analysis which is often not available in the traditional media.  I wish that I had an equally popular Republican blog in my "Favorites" next to BOR, but no such luck.

Your post is based on my brief conversation with Garnet (with whom I have served for 18 years), and then dressed up with some whopper conspiracy theories à la Oliver Stone.  If I intended to do something sneaky, do you really think I would have told it to one of the leading (and smartest) Democrats in the House?  No - I discussed with him what I expected to happen during the floor battle the next day, just like I did later that evening with Reps. Thompson, Eiland, Talton, and (I think) Geren.

"Iron-fisted" Craddick let me handle the entire election contest without giving me a single instruction - mighty lenient, don't you think?  I don't think I ever met or spoke with Secretary Williams before the day of the speaker election - not very smart for a "rigger," was it?

Other than the fact that I spoke with Garnet, your story is dramatic, but completely fictional.


Amazing, if true (0.00 / 0)
If this is actually Rep. Hartnett reading this post and responding to it in a calm and reasonable manner, then you deserve my respect, even if I doubt we agree on many substantive issues.  Glad to have your input -- I get tired of blogs that consist of nothing but cheerleading.

[ Parent ]
I'll pass on further comment about Garnet... (0.00 / 0)
But I would like to know, and I promise not to tell anyone, where you got your two-headed coin.


[ Parent ]
What is fictional? (0.00 / 0)
Rep. Hartnett -- first of all, thanks for reading, and leaving a comment.

Here are the key facts of my story:

1) The brief conversation
2) The Sec. of State's office meeting with Rep. Coleman
3) There is no rule that allows anyone's resolution to come up first
4) The coin flip

All of those things are true, yes? Nothing is fictional about any of those facts?

OK, good. Do I interpret the situation dramatically? Perhaps, though I have learned how to persuade from watching all those wonderful speeches from the floor of the House about amendments and resolutions -- which tend to have a flair for the dramatic.

Now, I certainly can't say specifically what conversation you had or did not have with Speaker Craddick. I find it incredibly hard to believe that you had no conversation with anyone in Speaker Craddick's office about the election contest. But if that's your account, I will update my post accordingly, because I'm certainly all for fairness here at BOR.

Thanks for reading.

Now, a very great man once said that some people rob you with a fountain pen.


[ Parent ]
Fantastic analysis, great discussion. (0.00 / 0)

Solid.  In the spirit of fairness, no matter who wins the speaker election, I trust we'll see an improved governing process for the 09' session.  

Texas deserves a fair legislative process.

I'd also like to hear more from both sides on the specifics of the speaker race, past and present.

Best,
David Kobierowski


I'm missing something (0.00 / 0)
What was the resolution that should have come up first, in your mind?  A different way to elect the Speaker?  Something else?  

Even if Hartnett's did come up first, why was that an advantage?  Couldn't it have been amended or defeated?

I'm afraid you'll have to spell out how this rigged the game.


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