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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Concerning the Rules of the Texas House of Representatives

Representative Strama presents the text of a personal privilege speech he made on the floor of the House as an opinion piece concerning House rules and Speaker Craddick's assertions about the power of his position. His speech offers a perspective on the events that is an enlightening addition to the briefs and opinions on the subject. - JB ed.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am aware that we have an important calendar to attend to today, so I will keep this brief. But I want to tell you I haven’t slept in two nights — and it is not over the question of whether we should vacate the Chair.

I haven’t slept in two nights because we have established a new rule that says that the power of recognition is absolute — not just with regard to the recognition of speakers for the purpose of debate, but to the recognition of motions for the purposes of actions by this House. And, that, I believe, turns this entire rule book into something that is purely recyclable, because the only way to enforce the rules is through a motion by a member of this House by calling a point of order. It is the only way any of these rules can be enforced and, if recognition of that motion is at the discretion of the Chair, if the power of recognition is absolute — as it has been said over and over for the last two days — under Rule 5 Section 24, then all of Rule 6 governing the order of business is meaningless.

Representative Hartnett cited congressional precedence. Let me read to you from the piece of paper he cited:

'For a long time, the Speakers have exercised the right to decline to recognize for a motion to suspend the rules, but they do not have any such rights as to motions privileged under the rules and in order.'

During my colloquy with the Speaker, they referenced congressional precedence under Rule 1 Section 9. Rule 1 Section 9 in the explanatory notes says: 'while circumscribed by the rules and practice of the House, the exercise of the power of recognition is not subject to a point of order' and under Appeals, it says 'the right of appeal cannot be taken away from the House.'

Members, I agree that the point of order is absolute under Rule 5 Section 24 — when it is viewed in the context of the Rules 22 and 23 — because that is Chapter C of Rule 5 governing speaking and debate. And, that is where the speaker gains the power to create an orderly format for debate. If you read Mr. Hartnett's precedent, it refers to the historical background for that power of recognition to govern who gets to speak in what order, because you cannot anticipate and establish rules governing who gets to speak when.

But all the other rules of this House — and I'm not a lawyer, I'm a technical guy, I'm a technology person — so I went online last night and I did a search of all the times in this Rule book when it says "the Chair shall" — and when it says "the Chair shall," the Chair is compelled to do what the Rule book says. But the only compulsion, the only mechanism to enforce those rules, is if the Chair is forced to recognize a privileged motion and points of order.

I've read the Speaker's journal entry about why a motion to vacate is out of order and I have read Article 15 Section 7 of the Constitution and I, not being a lawyer, believe a court can adjudicate the question that the speaker argues. I don’t care anymore. What I care about is that this House have rules. Because if it has no rules, then the power of the speaker is plenary — not just with regard to recognition, but with regard to everything — the calendar, the order of business, who gets to lay out a bill, what arguments are entertained on this floor, ultimately what votes we take, and what policies we make are determined by one person elected at the beginning of the session and to whom we would have turned over all of our power.

This system of government is one built on checks and balances. We would not, we could not, we should not cede our power to one person and give them plenary, tyrannical authority over our ability to make decisions. And a plain reading of the rules, and a plain reading of precedent says that it cannot possibly be the case that the power of recognition for purpose of speaking and debate in Rule 5 Chapter C extends to the power to deny members privileged motions, to deny their ability to make points of order, to deny twenty-five members of this House the ability to second a motion for the previous question. Our rules mean nothing, if the power of recognition extends beyond speaking and debate.

I'm not a lawyer but I've heard the phrase 'Humpty Dumptyism' when people talk about rulings that don’t comport with the plain language of the law. So, I looked up that section of Through the Looking Glass because, like a lot of you, I'm sure, I've felt like we've been though the looking glass for the last couple of days. And in the section where Alice confronts Humpty Dumpty, he says, 'When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.' And Alice says, 'The question is whether you can make a word mean so many different things.' And Humpty Dumpty says, 'The question is who is master. That is all.'

That is not the question in America. That’s not the question. That’s not the way we do things. And so I hope the Speaker will reconsider his position on that. It is a position without precedent. It is a position that undermines the fundamental principles of government in this country. And I hope all of you will join me in encouraging him to reconsider that position. Thank you.

Tom Craddick

Craddick is the man I hold responsible for eliminating municipal and co-operative utilities from the authority of the Texas Public Utilities Commission. He did this at the time he was interested in a utility known as Cap Rock. It makes no sense for some of our major public utilities to be exempt from supervision by this Commission, and this must be changed.

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