An opinion issued late Friday by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott partially agreeing with House Speaker Tom Craddick drew fire from leaders in both parties.
The opinion agreed with Craddick’s argument that he’s only subject to removal from office by impeachment, but he refused to enter the debate over House rules.
The Associated Press reported that the clash stems from Craddick’s declaration of “absolute authority” to deflect attempts to unseat him during the final days of this year’s legislative session.
Abbott, a Republican, issued the opinion at the behest of two GOP lawmakers who argued that Craddick exceeded his legal power when he refused to recognize lawmakers for a parliamentary maneuver that would have led to a vote of the 150-member chamber on whether to oust him last May. Craddick is also a Republican.
Impeachment, which would also require a majority vote of the Senate, would not necessarily mean removal from office, nor is it the only way to remove a speaker from office, Abbott said.
“In football terms, the attorney general’s advisory opinion has punted this issue to the courts and has fumbled in its attempted summary,” state Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) said in a joint written statement with state Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).
“Craddick is elected from his Midland district which is only 1/150th of the people of Texas. Based on this, we strongly disagree with the unprecedented contention that the office of speaker is a statewide officer. Furthermore, it is unprecedented to contend that the House Speaker is subject to removal by a vote of the Texas Senate. Sadly, the attorney general’s advisory opinion only reaffirms the adage: ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Tom Craddick’s declaration of ‘absolute authority’ is an abuse of power and undermines the basic premise of democracy in Texas government.”
Keffer, who has announced he will seek the Speaker’s position if re-elected next November, represents the 60th District, which includes Brown County.
“The speaker welcomes the attorney general’s opinion and his acknowledgment that the rules of the House, as well as the interpretation of those rules, are matters to be determined solely by the members of the House,” Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said in a written statement. “The attorney general’s opinion affirms the speaker’s position on all issues, including that the speaker is an officer of the state, who serves a two-year term of office.”
Craddick argued that it’s within his power to recognize or not recognize lawmakers for House business. But his opponents said the law allows him to only recognize the order in which they will be recognized.
Craddick kept his seat through the May uprising, but many expect repercussions during the legislative primary races next spring.
Craddick’s critics say his assertion of absolute power during the imbroglio is an example of their gripe — an unyielding leader, the Associated Press reported. While opinions by the attorney general are advisory, they carry the weight of law until they are overruled by legislation or a court.
Abbott would not answer questions about the House rules and parliamentary procedure.
“We firmly believe Craddick’s application of ‘absolute authority’ has violated constitutional rights of members of the Legislature and the constituents they serve,” Keffer and Cook said in the statement. “We firmly believe our state constitution did not create the Texas House speaker post as a dictatorial position. … Because of the attorney general’s own admission of a lack of clarity by past court cases, it now appears that the integrity of Texas government is still at a critical crossroads. Enough is enough. The people of Texas need to let their local representatives know that they’ve had enough of Tom Craddick’s one-man dictatorship.”
Texas House Democratic leader Jim Dunham of Waco said, “From the start, many other Texans and I expressed concern that the financial ties between Abbott and Craddick raise serious doubts about the fairness and independence of the opinion process. They are wed at the hip by the same donors, and the public record makes that clear (according to the Ethics Commission, they have taken more than $13.6 million in combined contributions from sources that gave $2,500 or more to each man). Unfortunately, Texas’ current Republican leadership puts allegiance to one another over the fundamentals of democracy. The result is what anyone would expect from the legacy of Tom DeLay politics.
“Beneath the tortured legal reasoning is this fundamental fact: Greg Abbott threw a lifeline to his ally Tom Craddick…
“No person with a common sense understanding of the fundamentals in our country, much less a trained lawyer, can condone Abbott’s opinion that Craddick should have the absolute power of a Tito, Mussolini or Stalin. If Greg Abbott really believes that, then we need a new attorney general…
“The ruling means one thing: Texans must vote for representatives who will elect new leadership for the Texas House in January 2009.”
On the Web:
Information from Associated Press reports was included in this article.