Texas Lawmakers Vie for Top Spot in House

Democrats elected a new Speaker of the House for the U.S. Congress today and the same ceremony is about to take place at the state level. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, two Texas lawmakers are competing for the top spot in the House of Representatives.

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Republican Speaker of the House Tom Craddick has an opponant for the spot from within his own party. Republican State Representative Jim Pitts is challenging Craddick for the influential position. Political Analyst and University of Houston Professor Robert Heath says the vote for speaker is one of the most delicate events inside the state capital.

"You can go from being a very influential player to a very uninfluential player by simply casting your ballot for the wrong person in a -- what would be from your perspective, a losing vote. But if you're on the right side, immediately you've got more power."

Pitts is one of two Republicans who were planning on challenging Craddick for the position of Speaker. Representative Brian McCall was also going to seek the position, but today announced he will step aside and back Pitts for the spot. Heath says the vote for speaker will determine exactly what issues are brought to the forefront of the legislative session.

"The reality is that what gets debated on the floor is only what is allowed to come to the floor under the conditions of the power base of the, essentially, ruling party. And ruling party here simply means those that support the speaker as opposed to those that oppose the speaker."

The vote for Speaker of the House will be held on the opening day of the legislative session. Heath says if Craddick wins the position, it may indicate solidarity within the Republican party, while if Pitts wins, it could be a sign of taking the legislature in a new direction. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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