AUSTIN, Texas – Opposition to embattled House Speaker Tom Craddick exploded again early Monday as dozens of Democrats and Republicans who want him to leave office walked out of the chamber in protest.
The walkout brought work to a halt just hours before the session is scheduled to end, potentially killing several major bills involving state parks, water issues and other matters.
The House did manage to pass the $153 billion two-year state budget — the only legislation they're legally required to approve.
But a short time later a Republican member came to the front of the chamber to speak against Craddick, R-Midland, and began calling lawmakers by name to vote for or against the speaker.
"The speaker thinks he has the votes to keep him in office," said Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso. "We can end all of that right now."
Several Craddick supporters walked out of the chamber and Rep. Sylvester Turner, who was presiding over the proceedings, interrupted Haggerty's roll call.
"You've made your point. People have heard your point. But now let's finish the people's business," Turner urged Haggerty.
Then Haggerty told all members who would have voted aye to "join me in taking your key and leaving."
The chamber emptied out and business came to a halt when a vote revealed the chamber was absent a quorum. Turner adjourned until Monday.
"Once again, some members chose to divert the House away from important matters and instead tried to drag the members into a speaker's race while we are in session," said Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee. "This evening a number of bills were put into jeopardy — bills that would protect our water, fund our parks and historical sites, lower electric rates, enhance air quality, and require steroid testing in our public schools."
The 150-member House elected Craddick to be their leader when the session started in January. But many have grown increasingly disenchanted with his win-at-all-costs approach to leading the chamber.
"It's clear that this had devolved into a dictatorship and this was the only way for people to express their vote of no confidence in this speaker," said San Antonio Democrat Rep. Joaquin Castro. "Hopefully after tonight he'll realize that he doesn't have the confidence of the majority of the members and that people want him to resign."
Tensions first peaked Friday night when Craddick announced that he would not recognize anyone to make a parliamentary motion to vote him out of office 18 months before his third term expires. When Craddick cut off discussion, disorder broke out and sergeants-at-arms restrained insurgents trying to overtake the speaker's podium. The House parliamentarian resigned on the verge of tears.
Since then, proceedings have been a parliamentary battle of wills — as long as Craddick didn't recognize opponents to kick him out of office, the 150-member chamber couldn't vote to do so.
"A referendum was needed. This has to stop," Haggerty said. "This idea of some people saying you don't have the votes to take him out ... This man is sitting here violating every rule of the House, every rule of parliamentary procedure to keep himself in office and it's wrong."
While Craddick supporters worried that important legislation was dying — 32 bills were left on the schedule — Castro and others who walked out said they could vote to suspend the rules to take up the legislation when they meet again Monday.
DeLee said Craddick planned to take up the remaining legislation before the session ends at midnight Monday.
Dan Flynn, R-Van, called the lawmakers who walked out "school children."
"They're more interested in their personal politics than doing the business of the state of Texas."