AUSTIN — House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, abandoned his bid for a fourth term as speaker when it became clear that a challenger had secured enough vote pledges to win. The official vote won’t be taken until January 13, opening day for the 81st Texas Legislature. According to his pledge list, Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, gained the support of more than 80 House members, many of them Democrats.
On the other hand, many members who had intended to vote for Craddick signaled their support for Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo. Straus, a 49-year-old insurance executive, is a relative newcomer who has been a House member since the 2005 session. Smithee, 57, is an attorney. He began serving as a House member in 1985 and has been elected to 13 consecutive terms.
As of January 1, the Texas Ethics Commission, the state agency in charge of election filings, listed 13 House members as candidates for speaker. Neither Straus nor Smithee was on that list. Craddick’s three terms as speaker were contentious. While in control of the agenda, Craddick overcame budget shortfalls in the $10 billion range but the House steadily lost Republican seats.
Craddick, the most senior member of the House with more than 40 years to his credit, withstood parliamentary challenges to his leadership and walkouts by Democrats. He bucked party tradition by championing a tax on business profits that was designed to compensate for a statewide reduction in local property taxes.
Perry names division chief
Gov. Rick Perry on January 2 appointed Ellen Witt as director of his office’s Division of Disaster Recovery and Renewal. Witt succeeds Brian Newby at the post. The division’s job is to support the Governor’s Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal, a public/private sector advisory panel that is guiding the state’s long-term recovery and renewal efforts in the wake of the 2008 hurricane season. The division works with local officials to help ensure communities are positioned to rebuild after future catastrophic events.
In other news, Gov. Perry appealed the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to deny an extension of Hurricane Ike relief. No word yet on the status of the appeal. In December, Perry asked for 18 more months of 100 percent reimbursement of emergency protective measures, debris removal and other relief work related to the September hurricane.
Perry has served longest
On December 19, Gov. Perry became Texas’ longest-serving governor, with 2,919 consecutive days in office. That’s eight years. At the end of his current term in 2010, he will have served more than 10 years as Texas’ highest-ranking state official. Perry was serving as lieutenant governor in 2000, and he succeeded George W. Bush as governor a month before Bush’s presidential inauguration.
Ethics prosecutor completes term
Ronnie Earle, Travis County district attorney and the state’s chief ethics prosecutor since 1977, completed his final term in office on December 31. Earle’s successor, his long-time first assistant Rosemary Lehmberg, was elected by popular vote in the general election of 2008.
Lawmakers file more bills
Here are samples of a few of the hundreds of proposed new laws senators and representatives have filed in advance of the soon-to-begin legislative session. HB 375 by Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, would reclassify farm elk as livestock under the agriculture code. Other species currently classified as livestock include horses, mules, asses, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, exotic livestock and hogs.
HB 438 by Eddie Lucio III, D-Rancho Viejo, would make it illegal for a motor vehicle operator to use a wireless communication device to read, write or send a text-based communication while driving.
SB 392 by Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would amend the election code by eliminating straight party voting for judicial offices, such as supreme court justices, courts of criminal appeals justices, district judges, criminal district judges, family district judges, county court at law judges, county criminal court judges, county probate court judges and county justices of the peace.