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State lawmakers ready to challenge Speaker Craddick

AUSTIN –- State lawmakers bounded out of Tuesday's election into an open challenge against House Speaker Tom Craddick and his bid to retain the leadership position he has held for nearly six years.

Craddick, a Midland Republican, easily won re-election against a Democratic opponent but faces a harder task trying to keep his speaker's post, which will be decided in an election by the House membership. Democrats and a group dissident Republicans accuse Craddick of autocratic rule and want to depose him.

Democrats appeared to gain at least two House seats in Tuesday's election to further diminish the Republican majority in the House, making Craddick's hold on the leadership even more precarious. Other races remained unsettled, raising the possibility of a 75-75 tie in the House, according to the Quorum Report, an Austin political newsletter.

House Democrats, who went into the elections hoping to secure an added five seats to seek control from Republicans, planned an afternoon meeting in Austin on Wednesday to discuss the speaker's race.

Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who has opposed Craddick's speakership, is presenting himself as a consensus candidate and said he will ask Democrats for their support when they gather in Austin. Keffer is running on a pledge to limit the speaker to three terms and curb special interest influence.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, the House Democratic leader, said he called the meeting to give Democrats the opportunity to consider uniting behind a single candidate. "Democrats right now are extremely united," he said.

The speaker's election will take place on the opening day of the legislative session in January but candidates for the post will try to sew up the race well before then by securing pledges from supporters.