AUSTIN — State Rep. Jim Keffer on Tuesday filed as a candidate for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for the regular session that will begin in January 2009.

The Eastland Republican, whose 60th District includes Brown County, formally announced his candidacy for speaker at the Texas House Republican Caucus meeting Tuesday afternoon.

“During the past few days, a majority of the members of the Texas House have agreed that we need a new speaker and most have stated that they would prefer the selection of a new speaker upon adjournment of the regular session, rather than by placing a call on the Speaker during the session,” Keffer said.

Keffer also challenged incumbent Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick to publicly join with him in committing to a three-term speaker limit.

“In my opinion, Speaker Craddick needs to announce that he will not seek another term and let the members pursue a new speaker’s race,” Keffer said. “However, if Craddick does pursue another term, I will aggressively challenge him and will welcome others to also enter the speaker’s race.”

Craddick, who filed his candidacy for a fourth term as speaker in February, told the Associated Press Tuesday he fully expects to run again as speaker. His current term — which is his third — expires in January 2009.

Craddick announced his plans to run after saying earlier he wouldn’t decide until the end of the session.

The House has been abuzz recently with speculation that the chamber will vote to force Craddick to step aside before the current legislative session ends May 28. Such a rare move has not been ruled out, but Keffer, president of an iron business in Eastland, said a move to force Craddick out before his term expires would not be necessary.

“Hopefully, we can get through the next two weeks in great civility and get the budget done and go home,” said Keffer, who is chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Keffer also said he will pursue a House Resolution for a three-term limit for the speaker’s office to ensure that the power of the Speaker’s office is used for the purpose of public service and nothing more.

Craddick was first elected House Speaker in 2003 and is currently serving the third term he narrowly won after a strong challenge by Republicans Brian McCall of Plano and Jim Pitts of Waxahachie in January.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported, a GOP activist in Central Texas sent out an urgent plea to the party faithful aimed at heading off a vote to “vacate the chair,” the parliamentary term for forcing the speaker out.

The proceedings highlighted behind-the-scenes maneuvering that’s been the subject of rumor and political blogging since Craddick won a tough re-election battle in January. In that race, Keffer diffused gossip that he would run for speaker by publicly announcing his support for Craddick.

If Craddick foes decide they want to make a move before the session ends and lawmakers scatter from Austin, a 76-vote majority of the 150-member chamber can vote to vacate the chair and replace Craddick, opponents say.

Keffer’s announcement pointed out that since Craddick took over as speaker, Republicans have lost seven seats in the Texas House and several Democrats who have supported Craddick have been defeated in Democratic primaries. Craddick has also been the first speaker in over 35 years to be overruled on a point of order by the Texas House membership, which occurred in early May. Upon completion of the current term, Craddick will have served 40 years in the Texas House.

“I am committed to the three-term limit and if elected by my colleagues I am committed to being a Republican House Speaker in a Republican majority who will honor the rules, respect each member’s district, and pass good public policy,” Keffer said.

Every two years, on the first day of the legislative session, members of the House select a speaker to preside over the chamber. It is extremely rare for a sitting speaker to be ousted.

In 2003 Craddick became the first Republican Texas speaker since Reconstruction, the AP reported. But nasty battles over redistricting and budget cuts have taken their toll. When the Legislature convened in January, he survived a narrow re-election battle, but hard feelings remain.

Last week, Craddick suffered a rare rebuke when a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted to overrule a parliamentary ruling by Craddick. Republicans and Democrats who once supported Craddick said obeying the rules was more important than loyalty at all costs.