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Craddick Gone Does Not Equal Fewer Democrats in 2010

by: Phillip Martin

Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 09:00 AM CST

I want to nip this in the bud before the conventional wisdom sets in that this line of thinking is true:

Strauss will stop the GOP hemorrhaging seats in the chamber, and possibly deny Democrats a majority until after redistricting? How? Why? Because Strauss is the GOP establishment. He'll bring money and power to a House Republican campaign organization that needs it. He'll bring a fresh, less controversial face-one that will be awfully hard for Democrats to hang on GOP incumbents necks' like an albatross come 2010. It means less gains in seats for Democrats, and, possibly, less Democratic holds.

Vince is expressing an opinion I've heard repeatedly, by Democrats inside and outside the blog world -- that Democrats would have been better off to keep Craddick in the Chair. So when I refute this, I'm not just picking on Vince -- I'm legitimately concerned that this will be the conventional wisdom, and we'll have to spend the next 22 months explaining ourselves.

  1. The House Democrats are stronger than ever.

    I mean, seriously -- the caucus laid out 64 names in writing, and delivered, as a block, over 70 votes to Straus. Party unity of that magnitude is only a negative in a world of purely pavlovian psychosis, where the commenter is trained to think that anything a Democrat does must be wrong.

    It's OK to be happy about winning. Really.

  2. Demographics are only in our favor.

    The growth in suburban and ex-urban communities largely favors Democrats. Rep. Harper-Brown is gone with a strong opponent (which is already being recruited). Rep.-elect Ken Legler will be a very vulnerable freshman Republican. Who knows what West Texas retirements may bring us -- so far, they've brought us Rep. Joe Heflin and Rep.-elect Joe Moody. Volunteers in Dallas & Harris counties can focus on state races and not the Obama campaign.

  3. Politics are still very much in our favor.

    Yes, Tom Craddick will no longer be Speaker. But we still have David Dewhurst and Rick Perry running the show, both of whom are staunch conservatives -- potentially even more so than Craddick -- who are not going to be catering to any progressive policies any time soon. A challenger Democrat can still say "Republicans in Austin" just as easily as he/she could say "Tom Craddick."

    We alson don't know what will happen with Straus/Smithee as Speaker. We have to wait and see -- but there's no guarantee that we're going to suddenly have an incredible shift towards progressive policies. The only change will be framing that discussion about issues to constituents and large donors, to ensure we have the votes and money to put that message in play. But we have to wait and see where session takes us, first. Which brings me to....

  4. The policies are still in our favor.

    When we talk about "restoring CHIP" we don't mean just getting back to the May 2002 level of 529,000 children enrolled. The estimates are much closer to around 725,000 children that should be enrolled in CHIP -- and that's just using the 200% federal poverty limit standard. The new administration is likely going to make it easier and encourage states to raise the FPL limit. Texas isn't going to go from providing the worst health care coverage for kids to the best health care coverage for kids just because a different Republican is Speaker. (Remember, Dewhurst was the real obstacle in 2007).

    We need at least a tuition freeze, an increase in funding for our schools, and more Top Tier universities. But even the Austin American-Statesman doesn't think we should have more Top Tier schools. Granted, it's because UT-Austin doesn't want it b/c UT-Austin could never have enough money....but that's another fight for another post. The point is, whatever we accomplish this session (and it should be more than last time), we won't be done fighting for full tuition relief for Texas families.

    Insurance rates. Homeowners coverage. Utility relief. Margins tax reform. School finance changes. Forward-thinking renewable energy policies and 21st new technology planning. Those issues aren't off the table just because we have a new Speaker. Those issues just have a more honest hearing in the Texas House -- which is a tremendous step in the right direction, but we still have a ways to go.

There will be politics & policy for Democrats to run on in 2010. There should still be major funders, provided that we still have strong candidates, strong GOTV plans, and a large network of staffers capable of executing the strategies. And our Democratic Party unity should be as strong as ever, so that if we can just pick up a few more seats, we can elect a Democrat Speaker in 2010.

Whether it is Rep. Joe Straus or Rep. John Smithee, those scenarios remain the same, with only marginal changes based on how well we can cooperate to put policies ahead of politics for the next five months. But come election season, Democrats will be Democrats, Republicans will be Republicans, and we'll all still be beating each other up over the best direction for Texas. As it should be, and as it will always be.

The only difference is now with Craddick gone, the fight will be fair, and focused on issues. And I'm never going to think that is a bad thing.


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Response (1.00 / 1)
My argument was never expressly that Democrats were better off with Craddick in the Chair. My argument was that Democrats were better off sitting out this inning (so to speak) and letting Republicans battle this one out, and then deny any Republican our vote.

My argument is that we are better off not being the driving force behind electing a new Republican speaker.

You noted:

Party unity of that magnitude is only a negative in a world of purely pavlovian psychosis, where the commenter is trained to think that anything a Democrat does must be wrong.

I disagree with that assessment 100 percent.

Number one, I'm not quibbling over party unity. I think we should be united, I just think we should be united in stepping back and giving votes to a Democrat. I say that because we are the minority party right now only by a hair. We need to assume the role of a vocal and strong minority and not put ourselves in a position where we have to sell out in any case to build consensus for anything aside from Democratic principles.

Let's take the "pro-choice/anti-choice" argument swirling around Straus. He came out on QR and basically delivered a talking point that tells me he's going to stand on the anti-choice side as speaker regardless of his NARAL-Pro Choice Texas ranking. In the case of uniting behind Straus, we just united behind someone who is more of the same we had before. Yes, he's not as bad as Craddick in many ways. But, in many ways he is just the same; he's cut from the very same cloth as Craddick and Perry and Dewhurst. All of the Republican speaker candidates are cut from that same bolt of cloth.

So, with Straus, where do we stand? Will we get some Committee chairmanships? Maybe. Will we get good committee seats, probably, but we'd get those with the seniority system anyway.

What will we have to give up with Straus? Who knows. We won't know until we get to the very point where our people are forced to chose bad over worse on some issue at some point during the session.

You note that the policies are in our favor; I argue that they are not in our favor. Every issue you mention from fully restoring CHIP to utility rates to tuition freezes don't just have to pass the House; they must also pass the Senate. I don't see that substantial reform in any of those areas will pass that chamber under any circumstance.

Too, given that the caucus is rarely 100 percent united on floor votes--and given that we cannot always depend upon Republicans to come to our side, we are still short votes in most instances to even pass real reform in one chamber.

In short, by joining forces to support Straus or any other Republican, we play a game of offense. I argue that the best strategy right now isn't offense, but defense.

The party and Texas is better off if House Democrats put forth a united and aggressive strategy of "defense" this session. By "defense" I mean being able to put the breaks on just about anything that comes to pass. Keep in mind that if Straus doesn't vote as Speaker, we're at 75-74 with R's holding a one-vote advantage. If our people stay united and grab only one Republican on key issues (not a hard thing to do in many cases), then we can STOP anything that is harmful to the people of Texas and it doesn't matter what the Senate does or does not do.

Look at Congress. When Democrats were in the minority, they voted for a Democrat for Speaker and raised as much hell as possible to obstruct policies that weren't good for America. Texas Legislative Democrats can do the same now, in this environment more than ever.

In short, denying our support to the leadership is a powerful tool if used properly. My argument is that we realize it is an asset and not a detriment and use it to our betterment.  

Vince Leibowitz

Vince (0.00 / 0)
I'd assumed you had your say on your blog, but thanks for repeating this all again.

"We need to assume the role of a vocal and strong minority and not put ourselves in a position where we have to sell out in any case to build consensus for anything aside from Democratic principles."

We have the role of a vocal and strong minority. We are that. The concerns/issues you raise aren't magically gone just b/c Craddick isn't Speaker (which was very much the point of your original post).

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

[ Parent ]
I had my say.... (0.00 / 0)
...and I was clarifying what I said, because you appeared to intimate that I was favoring Craddick remaining as speaker. Further, I felt it necessary to rebut some of your arguments. I thought that more appropriate to do here instead of in another post.  

Vince Leibowitz

[ Parent ]
Some flaws in your logic (3.00 / 1)
First of all Vince, I think a lot of people had mistaken your posting for saying keep Craddick in. Sorry if we misread you but it looked a lot like that and I think a lot of people who supported you were doing so under that premise. You did clarify but in reality, you did keep a "maintain status quo" position.

If the Ds had gone in support of another D we would have lost and probably would have ended up with Craddick again. The Craddick Ds wouldn't have moved because they, for whatever reason, believed status quo with Craddick was in their best interest. I'm going to lay off Ruth now since I've slammed her enough but she is a great example.

The difference between the Texas House and Congress was that we had reached a stagnant House with Craddick in place. It was time to clear that jam out. Craddick felt he had the votes mostly likely because he didn't think the ABCs and the Ds would unite. So, based on your approach, we would have had another term with Craddick, something we all didn't want (maybe you did, but it's hard to tell from your weird logic).

You keep talking about stopping things in the House. What about starting things? With Straus in position we can START some good progressive legislation that would have never happened with Craddick in play. I supported this move to take the muzzle off our good D legislators. Yes, this still has the Senate and Perry to deal with but at least these legislative issues will receive debate, vote and air time for a change. If Dewhurst, the Rs in the Senate or Perry want to stifle the legislation now they must be on record for it. With Craddick they were spared the issue. Let's start getting them on record for these things. Did I miss something there?

You say Straus is more of the same. Let's let time be the judge of that. I've too many Ds in BOR castigate Rs before they have the chance to prove themselves. No wonder we have obstructionist government. We can never get along. From your post I imply you dislike bipartisan government and prefer obstructionism in the process. At least that's what you're saying in your response. Point me to some comments that don't say that.

[ Parent ]
The 39% (0.00 / 0)
There is that 39% which represents the conservative base of the Republican Party in Texas as indicated by the 39% who voted for Rick Perry in 2006. They don't want Straus. But the other 61% probably will support him and pressure their legislators to support him. There are all sorts of factors at work.  But the main factor is the money and that 39% is where most of the money is.  And it's all about the money, honey.  Straus will become speaker. But then he will have to deal with that 39%.  But they will have to deal with him and with the other 61% if they are going to prevail in 2010.  So it's going to be an interesting year.

Craddick is gone. One down. Two to go.  What happens in 2010 will depend on what Kay Bailey Hutchison decides to do.  The 39% may give Perry whatever he needs to run the nastiest primary race Texas has ever seen. But the 61% might ignore it and vote for her.  Of course if she wins the primary and then loses the election and a Democrat becomes governor and then a Democrat takes her seat in the Senate, she has lost it all.  As has the Republican Party.

She likes sure things. And this is not a sure thing. Unless the 61% begins to have more influence in the legislature which means the 61% is no longer willing to go along to get along. So, again, it's going to be an interesting year.

[ Parent ]
Another Way to Look at It (3.00 / 1)
Gonna have to agree with Phillip on this one...mostly.

But I'm coming at it from the following angle: if Dems don't take the majority any time soon, it'll be important that Democratic votes were key in installing Straus as Speaker. If he wants to stay in that position, he'll have to keep Dems happy.

The reason this is important is that 2010 is going to be a tough year for Texas Dems. Explanation follows:

In both 2006 and 2008, we benefited from the general public dissatisfaction with Republicans, and 2008 had the added bonus of Barack Obama to boost Democratic turnout. This isn't the only reason we made gains (there's no question that demographics are shifting in our favor)--I'm just arguing that the political climate at the time was a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008.

In 2010, however, the climate will be a lot different. Dems will have been in control in Washington for 2 years, and it's by no means a given that they'll have been able to do much to improve the state of the economy. Voters may be slightly frustrated--or more that slightly. Even in the best case scenario, Democrats and left-leaning swing voters aren't going to be as fired up as the previous two cycles, where as the Republican base is going to be itching to retaliate.

On top of all that, the highest-profile race on the ballot is going to be the Governor's race, which almost certainly pit Kay Bay, probably the most popular Republican in Texas, against a Democrat to be named. If that race has any effect on others down the ballot, it won't be good for Dems.

Anyway, considering that 2010 doesn't look like a great year for us, I'm glad we have a Republican Speaker who is beholden to Democratic votes.

Good points (0.00 / 0)
I'm not sold on the Kay Bailey argument yet, but I think your point that if the political climate is a challenge regardless of who is Speaker then it's better to have a Republican who is more generally on our side is a good one.

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

[ Parent ]
If I may (0.00 / 0)
say ~ voter turnout much more likely had to do with the Democratic presidential primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and all the national media attention that came with it. I find it curious how this fact is so frequently construed as being all about Barack Obama, only.

I see 2010 a lot more positively than you do. I don't think KBH will run at all.  

[ Parent ]
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