The contest for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives is exposing deep divisions in Republican ranks — and the religious right is doing all it can to widen those divisions. A collection of religious-right groups is sending out mass e-mails, calling on activists to contact their local lawmakers and demand that they support the re-election of Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to a fourth term as House speaker. Some of the e-mails use almost identical language, suggesting coordination in support of Craddick.
Craddick has alienated Democrats and a number of Republicans with his autocratic rule of the House and by forcing controversial votes on hot-button issues like private school vouchers. The religious right has strongly supported Craddick’s speakership, seeing him as an important tool in the far-right’s ongoing and deeply divisive culture war on mainstream values like strong public schools, religious freedom and civil liberties in Texas.
Eleven House Republicans have moved to support state Rep. Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio, as speaker after the new legislative session begins on Jan. 13. To win, Straus will need the support of a large majority of Democratic votes as well.
In an e-mail blast, the group urged recipients to light up the capitol switchboard with pro-Craddick phone calls. Alliance director Joe Pojman said the chances of passing anti-abortion legislation under Straus would be “greatly diminished, if not eliminated altogether.”
“We will have almost no chance of getting badly needed pro-life bills through the committee process and onto the House floor, effectively killing them,” Pojman said.
Straus said in his statement to the AP that he was “communicating directly with legislators on several ‘social issues’ where my record has been mis-stated.”
Various religious-right groups are describing opposition to Craddick as an attempted “coup.”
From David Barton, founder and head of WallBuilders:
Rep. Straus (who has been in office for only two sessions) has developed a clear voting record that demonstrates overt hostility toward unborn life and traditional family values. [Jan. 3 e-mail]
The Speaker chooses the Committee Chairs (who then decide which bills they will hear and which they will kill) and the Speaker also chooses which of the bills that emerge from the committees will come to the floor for a vote and which will be buried. If these liberals succeed in their effort to choose the Speaker, pro-life and pro-family legislation will no longer move through the Texas House. What they are attempting to do is not only disgraceful but will be highly destructive to all of our issues.
It is crucial that you call your State Representative immediately and demand that he/she not participate in this coup. [Jan. 2 e-mail]
Cathie Adams from Texas Eagle Forum calls the Republican opponents of Craddick the “Gang of 11.”
Remember how the “gang of 12” US Senators stifled President Bush’s court appointments? This type of renegade politics is now being practiced by a “gang of 11” TX State Representatives concerning the election of the next Speaker of the House.
This is clearly a coup attempt by the “gang of 11.” [Jan. 1 e-mail]
Over the past decade, it is arguable that no state in the nation has made more progress in enacting laws protecting unborn life, traditional marriage and family, parental rights, and public religious expressions. However, there is now an aggressive and unprecedented attempt underway to halt progress on the issues about which we care most.
In the Texas House, there are 150 Representatives, so a majority of 76 votes is required to enact any measure or pass any policy. Currently, 65 of the most anti-life and anti-family Democrats have joined with 11 of the more liberal Republicans in a coup attempt to take over the House leadership, replacing the current House Speaker with one of their own. (While we are hopeful, minds can be changed, the 11 Republicans currently identified by the Houston Chronicle as participating in this coup include Edmund Kuempel, Brian McCall, Jim Keffer, Burt Solomons, Byron Cook, Delwin Jones, Tommy Merritt, Jim Pitts, Rob Eissler, Joe Straus, and Charlie Geren.). [This passage is almost identical to language in a WallBuilders e-mail.]
The Texas Freedom Network has taken no position on the speaker’s race, but calling those 11 Republicans “liberal” is almost laughable. It does appear, however, that they are tired of the extremism and divisiveness that have been on display in the House for the past six years.
UPDATE: Vince over at Capitol Annex has more here, including a look at the far right’s attacks on Straus’ voting record regarding abortion.