The Texas Observer 2.27.2004Scandal in the Speaker's Office
A campaign finance scandal threatens to swallow TomCraddick
BY JAKE BERNSTEIN AND DAVE MANN
or Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), November 7, 2002 must have been one of thehappiest days of his life. Not 48 hours earlier, Republicans had romped to a landslideelectoral victory across the state, winning 88 seats in the Texas House. For the first timein 130 years, Republicans would be a majority in the state Legislature. Craddick, whohad won his first election at age 25, was the House’s longest serving Republican. He hadspent many of his 34 years in the Texas House shunted to the legislative sidelines in alonely minority. But as the GOP rose in Texas, so did Craddick’s fortunes. For theprevious eight years, he had struggled to win the coveted leadership role of speaker of theHouse, helping to engineer three Republican swipes at capturing the majority. Each hadfailed.Now, on this Thursday, which also happened to be his late father’s birthday, a pressconference had been called for a momentous announcement: Craddick had collectedenough pledges from his fellow House members to be named speakerthe mostpowerful state official not elected statewide. Republican partisans, members of the media, and the Capitol curious packed into thespeaker’s committee room behind the House chamber to hear the news. A spokesman forFarmers Insurance, who insisted he was there just as a friend of Craddick’s, handed outmedia packets to reporters. When the 59-year-old Craddick entered the room, the crowdburst into applause. And Tom Craddick, a man known for his wry sense of humor andunderstated delivery, broke into a wide lopsided grin. As the Observer goes to press, Speaker Craddick has recently hired one of the state’sfinest criminal defense attorneys to help him respond to a subpoena from a Travis Countygrand jury investigating the 2002 election. In what has the potential to be the biggestlegislative scandal since 1971, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle isinvestigating an allegedly wide-ranging conspiracy to funnel illegal corporate money intolegislative elections. As the Observer chronicled last August [“Rise of the Machine,”Aug. 29, 2003], the Texas Association of Business and the Tom DeLay-created Texansfor a Republican Majority political action committee used about $2.5 million in corporatecash to help elect a handpicked Republican majority that would crown Craddick speaker.