Texas House Speaker Done?

Sources say Speaker Tom Craddick won't seek fourth term

House Speaker Tom Craddick, the first Republican speaker in modern times, is dropping his bid for a fourth term, four GOP House members said Sunday.

Craddick became speaker in 2003 and quickly pushed through a conservative agenda of congressional redistricting, lawsuit limitations and a new business tax.

His tenure has been marked by complaints from Republicans and Democrats that he rules the chamber like a dictator and forces lawmakers to bend to his will.

At a downtown Austin steakhouse, where Craddick had planned to address the House Republican caucus, Craddick rushed through a throng of reporters to get into the restaurant.

"I've talked to some of his staff and it's over for Tom," said Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, who has remained a Craddick ally amid the swirl of opposition and an surging opponent who claimed to have clinched the race.

Republican Rep. Joe Straus, a longtime political activist from San Antonio, released a list of 85 pledges of support Sunday evening, more than enough to win the election on Jan. 13.

"It is time for a new tone and an atmosphere of trust in the Texas House of Representatives," Straus said, upon announcing that he had secured enough support to win the race.

"Having received the commitment of a strong majority of my colleagues, it is my goal to restore civility, fairness and transparency to the House of Representatives and its public-policy making process.

"Speaker Tom Craddick has served with distinction in the Texas House for four decades. I have great respect for him personally, and honor his service to the State."

Straus had emerged as the unanimous but surprise choice of the Republican ABC coalition -- Anybody But Craddick -- after a closed-door meeting Friday night.

But the wealthy businessman only had 11 publicly declared Republican votes at the time.

Republicans hold a 76-74 majority in the House. The narrow partisan split and divided GOP loyalties mean House Democrats will play a decisive role.

Sixty-four Democrats had signed a letter vowing to oppose Craddick's re-election "under any circumstances." Craddick also had counted on support from Democrats -- they're called Craddick Ds -- and they were also being courted by Straus.

Straus served in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Craddick, the longest serving Republican in state elective office, has been a lightning rod of controversy in Austin. He famously faced down a rebellion at the end of the 2007 session after replacing his rules advisers and claiming "absolute" authority to brush aside challenges to his rule.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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