Counting Craddick’s Woes
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A local Democrat could help tip the scales in the Texas House.
By DAVE MCNEELY
While Gov. Rick Perry was off stumping in Iowa on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, district-by-district political skirmishes were going on at home in Texas. And the outcomes, in primary and general elections next year, could determine whether controversial Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick can keep his job.
One surprising development came in Fort Worth, with the first-place finish on Nov. 4 of Democrat Dan Barrett, with 31.5 percent of the vote, in a special election to fill a vacancy in what has been solidly Republican District 97 in the Texas House.
The vacancy came about when 19-year incumbent Anna Mowery resigned several weeks ago. Seven Republicans ran to replace the Fort Worth Republican, but only one Democrat — plaintiff’s attorney Barrett, who said he won’t vote to keep Craddick as speaker should he be around for the 2009 legislative session.
He’ll be in a runoff in a few weeks with Mark Shelton, a doctor active in Tarrant County Republican politics, who got 22.9 percent of the vote. Shelton said he’d support Craddick’s continuing as speaker.
During an attempt to oust him from the speaker’s chair at the close of last session, Craddick claimed he had absolute authority over who would be recognized to speak and that no motion could be made to remove him without his approval.
If Barrett wins, that could cost Craddick a vote. However, that district is about 60 percent Republican — in fact 68.5 percent of the special-election votes went to Republicans — and for Barrett to win the runoff would take lots of grassroots effort and a move by independents to vote Democratic in usually ill-attended special elections.
Even if Barrett should win the special election, next year he’d have to win both the Democratic primary and the general election to get a chance to vote on the speaker’s race in 2009.
Barrett’s lead adds further energy to an effort that was buoyed by the September announcement from Republican Rep. Kirk England of Grand Prairie that he was switching to the Democrats.
If Barrett wins, the number of Democrats will be up to 71, contrasted to 79 Republicans, and the math starts to get interesting.
Of the 15 Democrats who sided with Craddick in 2007, some have retired, some have drawn Democratic primary opponents, and four have cut their ties with Craddick over his autocratic leadership style.
Fourteen Republicans opposed Craddick, who’ll try to find primary opponents for them. He is likely to be a major issue in those races — and in races where Craddick loyalists like Mowery are retiring.
The Democrats hope the changed mood of the country and the state, the demographic changes that helped fuel the Democratic takeover of countywide offices in Dallas County, and the taint that has settled over Republicans in Congress will extend down the ballot.
The guarded optimism and new energy among Democrats is partly a result of the fact that in redistricting, Republicans did what the Democrats used to do to maximize their representation: They narrowed their majority in some districts to move Republicans to adjacent Democratic districts and make those districts flip.
It worked well for the Republicans in the few years since they gained control of Texas’ redistricting levers. But when the GOP margin in a district is cut to only a few percentage points, it doesn’t take much of a shift in sentiment or demographics to reverse the polarity.
That’s partly why three Travis County districts designed to elect Republicans now send Democrats to represent Austin.
It’s also why Sen. Mike Jackson of LaPorte, in a presumably solid Republican district, has drawn two Democratic opponents.
One is Joe Jaworski, a nephew of the late Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski, co-founder of the Fulbright and Jaworski law firm. The younger Jaworski served three terms on the Galveston City Council. He is well connected and aims to raise at least $1 million. The other is NASA contractor Bryan Hermann of Nassau Bay, a political novice.
Some Texas Democrats fear what will happen in the presidential race if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. One judicial candidate confided his dream:
Out at the forks of the creek, Pa says, “Ma, let’s go into town and vote against Hillary.”
To which Ma replies, “But that means we’d have to vote for Rudy Giuliani.”
“My fantasy,” the judicial hopeful said, “is that they’ll decide to stay home.”
Veteran Texas political reporter Dave McNeely can be reached at email@example.com.
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