West Texas delegation moves closer to backing leader from outside region

SMU Political Scientist Cal Jillson talks about the influence of West Texas in the Legislature as Tom Craddick is replaced as speaker.

By Elliott Blackburn

The political forecast called for lots of fog in West Texas' future as legislators edged over the weekend toward giving for the first time in 15 years leadership of the House of Representatives to a state representative from outside the region.

At least two West Texas representatives had joined challengers maneuvering to oust Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, from the powerful House speaker post as the 2009 session drew closer.

Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, met late Friday afternoon with other Republicans rebelling against Craddick to unite behind San Antonio Rep. Joe Straus III, a relatively new legislator with deep Republican credentials. . .

Rural projects weren't necessarily a priority for Craddick, Jones said, something political observer Cal Jillson also noted.

Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor, said much of Craddick's tenure reflected the West Texas ideal of a limited government set up to stop bad ideas, rather than push new ones.

The region may not notice much of a shift, given the lack of special projects and the small chance of serious ideological change, he said.

"It's not as if it's going to flip over and the Democrats will be running the House," Jillson said.

A moderate Republican speaker may not share the same stringent small-government views, Jillson said. But the speaker, if not Craddick, would almost certainly be Republican, and legislators from major cities will need the support of the West Texas delegation to pass their own bills.

"It's a fair fear, but it's been a fair fear for 150 years," Jillson said. "Probably the thing that West Texas can depend upon is that Dallas will squabble to Houston. Both will look to West Texas for that bit of support they need to form a majority. That's always the way that legislative politics in Texas go."

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