Texas House Speaker Tom CraddickThe decision by former Dallas state representative Bill Ceverha to file for personal bankruptcy shortly before the tightening of the bankruptcy laws is the first major political fallout from the civil and criminal litigation surrounding Republican-led efforts to secure majority control of the Texas legislature in 2002. But it have much wider implications for those in political power down in Austin, particularly House Speaker Tom Craddick.
For those who have not been following Ceverha’s legal difficulties, Bill Ceverha was the Treasurer of the political action committee working to secure a Republican majority in the Texas House of Representatives in 2002 called Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC). Ceverha was a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by lawyer David Richards (Gov. Ann Richards’s former husband) on behalf of three Democratic candidates for the House. The suit charges that TRMPAC improperly raised and spent $600,000 in corporate contributions to help GOP candidates win election to the Texas House. Ceverha lost the case and was ordered to pay $196,000 in damages.
Ever since he served as a State Representative for the Richardson area, Ceverha has been closely aligned with Midland State Representative and House Speaker Tom Craddick. Ceverha and Craddick remained close political allies after Ceverha left the legislature and went to work for Dallas businessman and Republican power broker, Louis Beecherl. Beecherl made a fortune in the oil and gas business and has been a major financial backer of Republican candidates at the local and state level for over a quarter century.
As the gatekeeper in Beecherl’s office, Ceverha has had significant influence over who got Beecherl’s financial backing. When Beecherl backs a Republican candidate, other well-heeled Republicans usually follow his lead and the contributions can quickly add up. Ceverha was also key in getting Beecherl’s financial backing for Craddick’s political efforts as far back as the early 1990s. The Beecherl financial support was in turn crucial in Tom Craddick’s rise to power as Speaker of the Texas House. Indeed, the Speaker’s ability to raise and distribute large sums of money to Republican candidates for the Texas House from major donors like Beecherl was the determining factor in his election as Speaker.
While Craddick has been criticized privately by a number of House Republicans for failed leadership on the school finance issue, Craddick’s financial muscle has enabled Craddick to keep his Republican troops in line. Ceverha’s personal troubles, however, may well undermine Craddick’s fund raising-rooted influence. While Bill Ceverha avoided the financial hit of having to pay off the $196,000 judgment, it is likely this controversy will have a negative impact on Ceverha’s fund-raising prowess going forward and his ability to help his friend Tom Craddick.
Current redistricting makes it almost impossible for Democrats to regain control of the Texas House at present; but increasing numbers primary challenges to incumbent House Republicans could mean Tom Craddick’s days as a powerful Speaker will soon be done. It might even mean his days as Speaker will soon be done.