The 80th Legislature started off with a contested speakers’ race in the House of Representatives - the first in years.
Facing off with incumbent Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, was state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who had advanced through the ranks to serve as chairman of Appropriations in the 79th Legislature.
Pitts had launched his campaign in late December, citing a need for change in the House, which he said was being led by an atmosphere of “arm-twisting, intimidation, retribution and threats.”
On the opening day of the session, the ground rules were to be set for the speaker’s election, which was going to hinge on whether or not a certain amount of anonymity could be attached to the vote. Craddick’s supporters pushed for an open ballot, with results immediately released.
Pitts’ supporters, however, presented an amendment that would have kept individual lawmakers’ votes secret until after committee assignments were made. They cited fear of retribution if the results were immediately released - holding the specifics, they said, would allow whichever speaker was elected to select committees on criteria other than how the vote went.
Seventy-nine people voted with Craddick to table the amendment, with 68 opposed, with political observers noting the split can easily be taken as to who supported whom in the speaker’s election.
Upon seeing how the vote split, Pitts subsequently withdrew from the race, saying he would not put his supporters in further harm’s way.
Craddick released committee assignments Friday evening - and those assignments have come under scrutiny.
Of the 40 committee chairmanships, all went to lawmakers who were among the 79 voting with Craddick. No one in the 68 voting block was given a chairmanship - in fact, the five chairmen in that group lost the positions they had held in the 79th Legislature: Pitts was removed as chair of Appropriations and will now serve as vice chairman of Government Reform and will also take a seat on Ways and Means.
Craig Eiland was removed as chair of Pensions and Investments and will now serve as vice chairman of Juvenile Justice and Family Issues while continuing on Insurance.
Allan Ritter was removed as chair of Economic Development and will now serve as vice chairman of Ways and Means, where he had a seat in the 79th Legislature. Ritter also will take a seat on Land and Resource Management.
Talton was removed as chairman of Urban Affairs and is no longer on the Redistricting Committee. He will continue on Civil Practices and will join the Criminal Jurisprudence committee.
West was removed as chairman of Energy Resources and is no longer on the Redistricting and Transportation committees. He is now on Environmental Regulation and Law Enforcement.
Vice chairmen positions reflect 21 held by lawmakers in the 79-block, with 19 among the 68-block.
Among the more prestigious committees - Appropriations, Ways and Means, Calendars, Regulated Industries, Public Education, Higher Education and Transportation - those in the 68-block have the following representation:
Appropriations - five of 29 seats
Ways and Means - three of nine seats, including vice chairman
Calendars - one of 11 seats
Regulated Industries - two of nine seats
Public Education - two of nine seats
Higher Education - three of nine seats, including vice chairman
Transportation - one of nine seats
See the graphic at assignments
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