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Rep. Craddick reviews record career, lays plans for 2017 - Odessa American: News

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Rep. Craddick reviews record career, lays plans for 2017

Craddick advises new Texas House members to learn the rules and get acquainted with members

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Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 7:00 am

MIDLAND Standing to be re-elected this fall without opposition, State Rep. Thomas Russell “Tom” Craddick is the longest-serving state legislator in Texas history and is quick to confirm that he is “old school.”

The Midland Republican will reach his 49th anniversary during his next term, and he says most representatives don’t do things the way he does anymore.

Referring to his 2015 authorship of a bill to outlaw texting while driving that failed in the Texas Senate, Craddick said, “When I did the driving bill, they put it on the calendar and said they were ready for the vote, but I said, ‘Wait a minute, I haven’t polled the House.’

“I found out exactly how many votes I was going to have on that bill and how many on the amendments. I did the same thing on the tuition revenue bonds bill to make sure we had the UTPB engineering school in there.”

Craddick also follows the now-uncommon practices of visiting the Texas Senate to seek support, getting to know all the new House members early in each biennial session in Austin and keeping up with the rules. “You need to know the rules,” he said.

“When I was young, you could go to a rules class, and when I was speaker from 2003-09 we’d get the parliamentarian in there and do one. Knowing the rules made the difference for me as speaker.

“I tell new members, ‘Go to the lounge in the morning before the session starts, have a cup of coffee and get to know the other members.’”

Representing Crane, Dawson, Martin and Midland countries in District 82, Craddick chose his own assignments, the State Affairs and Energy Resources committees, after San Antonio Rep. Joe Straus succeeded him as speaker. He is a salesman for Horizon Mud and owns Craddick Properties and Craddick Inc. He and his wife Nadine have two children and three grandchildren. He is 72.

Asked what qualities a representative should have, Craddick said, “If you’re not straight about a bill and it passes and somebody discovers it, it kills you.

“It’s all about you and the trust of the other members.”

Looking to the 85th Legislature next January, he said school finance and a sunset review of the Texas Railroad Commission, on which his daughter Christi serves, will be big issues while the oil bust crimps highway funding.

He will also continue his efforts of the past number of sessions to put more stringent regulations on payday loan companies. “The payday loan lobby is strong,” Craddick said.

“I have some church organizations with me, and if I ever get it to a vote, I’ll win it. Two years ago, I went to apply for a payday loan to see how it works. I was reading these things on the wall, and a lady walked up and asked, ‘Rep. Craddick, what can I do to help you?’ So that didn’t work very well.”

Projects in which he has played key roles include Highway 191; a Highway 349 connector, the Nadine and Tom Craddick Highway, north of Midland; Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center; the I-20 connections east of Midland; Sibley Nature Center; the CAF Museum; and statewide tort reform, which lowered medical malpractice premiums, capped damages and curtailed frivolous lawsuits.

“We got 26,000 new doctors into the state in the first two years,” he said. “It made a huge difference.”

He pushed congressional redistricting through in three special sessions in 2003 to make Midland-Odessa the center of the new 11th District, wrote the legislation that created Midland College, sponsored the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center’s physicians’ assistants program at the college, cut school taxes by $14 billion and lowered school rates by almost a third.

Having first taken office in 1969, Craddick said on Feb. 25 that he had paid scant attention to the District 81 race between Rep. Brooks Landgraf and Josh Crawford, explaining that he works closely with Landgraf on the energy committee and doesn’t get involved in the politics of the adjacent district.

Asked his view of Republican incumbents being challenged by allegedly more conservative Republicans, he said, “I think it’s an open deal.

“People have the right to run for office whether it’s Democrats against Democrats or Republicans against Republicans.”

Having dissolved his Stars Over Texas PAC after his speakership, he said, “I’ve stayed out of Republican races, but I did support the Craddick Ds, the Democrats who had supported me for speaker, when they had minor Republican opponents in Democrat districts.”

Craddick has no regrets about his high pressure years as speaker, saying, “Nadine and I talked about it when I went in, and I said, ‘We’re probably going to be a one-term speaker because I’m going to do all this stuff.’ And we did.”

He declined backing over the years to run for the Texas Senate and Congress and an appointment as secretary of state by former Gov. Bill Clements. “I could have a business career, a family life and do things for my children when they were growing up, so the House worked out well,” he said.

“I love the House, the atmosphere and camaraderie. There’s more interaction with the members than there is in the Senate, and you’re closer to the people in your district.”

Craddick had suffered with scoliosis for some time and was increasingly “bent forward,” he said, when he had 10 1/2 hours of surgery in December 2014 at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. “They totally redid my spine,” he said.

“I have 4 1/2 pounds of titanium rods, bolts and screws in my back, and people tell me I look 10 years younger. I feel great.”

Former Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance of Austin, who attended college with Craddick in the 1960s, said the one-time business Ph.D. candidate “has always been a sound conservative and cautious with the taxpayers’ dollars.

“Tom has a historical knowledge of the legislature and is very effective,” said Hance, who is also an attorney and a former congressman and railroad commissioner. “You’ve got to be able to get along with people, but there are times when you have to be strong and stand firm. Some people thought that was to his detriment, but I saw many times when it was to his benefit.

“The one word I would use to describe him is ‘persistent.’ If he is going to try to get something done, he will not give up. He’s going to stay after it and stay after it. The Permian Basin is a better place because of him.”

Former Midland Mayor Wes Perry said it “is unprecedented for someone from our area to have had as much influence as Tom.

“You knew it if you were in the room, but he never called a press conference and bragged, ‘Well, I got this done,’” Perry said. “He knows what’s good for our area and has really been able to help us out, but he stays in the background in a humble way.

“That’s a principled guy, I think, the antithesis of a politician. It’s refreshing to see a guy who has been able to have a family and a business and serve the state.”

During a 90-minute lecture on politics and elections on the afternoon of Feb. 25 in the government class of Midland College Adjunct Professor Matthew Blair, Craddick recounted an incident from his first campaign that he said showed how a candidate should relate to the voters.

He’d been block-walking for months and knocked on the door of a woman who came outside, chewing. “She asked what party I was with,” he said.

“I said, ‘Republican,’ and she spit food all over me and ran me off the porch with her broom.”

Craddick was standing in the street when the woman’s daughter drove up and asked what was going on. “She said, ‘Mom hates Republicans,’” he said.

Craddick asked the daughter to ask who her mom’s favorite president was and learning it was Lincoln, he had her go back and say Lincoln was a Republican.

“That woman let me put a sign in her yard and voted for me,” he said, smiling. “You just have to be persistent.”

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