The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics

The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics

The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics

The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics

Synopsis

In a state assumed to have a constitutionally weak governor, the Speaker of the Texas House wields enormous power, with the ability to almost single-handedly dictate the legislative agenda. The House Will Come to Ordercharts the evolution of the Speaker's role from a relatively obscure office to one of the most powerful in the state. This fascinating account, drawn from the Briscoe Center's oral history project on the former Speakers, is the story of transition, modernization, and power struggles.

Weaving a compelling story of scandal, service, and opportunity, Patrick Cox and Michael Phillips describe the divisions within the traditional Democratic Party, the ascendance of Republicans, and how Texas business, agriculture, and media shaped perceptions of officeholders. While the governor and lieutenant governor wielded their power, the authors show how the modern Texas House Speaker built an office of equal power as the state became more complex and diverse. The authors also explore how race, class, and gender affected this transition as they explain the importance of the office in Texas and the impact the state's Speakers have had on national politics.

At the apex of its power, the Texas House Speaker's role at last receives the critical consideration it deserves.

Excerpt

The Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives is one of the most influential people in the state of Texas. Yet historians and other scholars have conducted little research on those who have served as Speaker or on the evolution of the office. the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, through its Texas House Speakers Oral History Project, is making an effort to correct this documentary oversight.

The Texas Constitution adopted in 1876 states that the House of Representatives, each time a new legislature convenes, will select one of its own members to serve as its presiding officer. Because no other direction is provided in the constitution, the functions of the Speaker’s office have evolved for nearly 130 years. the modern era of the office of the Speaker dates from the end of World War II. As the state became more urban and diverse, the Speaker’s role also changed. the Speaker’s authority and prestige began to rival that of the governor and lieutenant governor. in addition, the personality and goals of each Speaker affected the history of the legislative body and the entire state.

In November 2003, the Briscoe Center launched a project to interview eleven former Speakers and the then-current Speaker. Patrick Cox, the Briscoe Center associate director, served as project director. He and project historian Michael Phillips conducted the research, interviewed the participants, and edited the transcriptions. They interviewed then-Speaker Tom Craddick and nine former Texas House Speakers: Reuben Senterfitt, Jim T. Lindsey, James “Jimmy” Turman, Ben Barnes, Gus Mutscher, Rayford Price, Bill Clayton, Gibson D. “Gib” Lewis, and Pete Laney. in addition, the wives of several former Speakers, including Nadine Craddick, Pat Senterfitt, Nelda Laney, and Jan Tunnell, gave interviews. Dr. David Carr, son of the late former Speaker and state attorney general Waggoner Carr . . .

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