Dianne Delisi’s resignation from the Legislature wrote an end to a great career. Public health is the most difficult area of state government to understand, much less master. The language is filled with acronyms and jargon. The bureaucracy is impenetrable, the appropriations huge, the problems intractrable. For three sessions, Delisi calmed these roiling waters and produced one piece of major legislation after another: funding for trauma centers; protecting urban hospitals that treat Medicaid payments from the loss of federal funds; and–perhaps the most difficult feat of all–an advance directives bill last session on the ultrasensitive issue of how to handle “pull the plug” cases involving terminally ill patients in a way that protects the rights of families, limits the financial exposure of hospitals, and satisfies the right-to-life community (which was split on the issue). Her own staff thought that the bill would never pass, but Delisi never game up and won agreement.
Delisi’s success stands out in a House where so many of Craddick’s chairmen have come under heavy fire: Heflin at Appropriations (and, more recently, Chisum), Grusendorf at Public Ed, Nixon at Civil Practices, Krusee at Transportation, Denny at Elections, King at Regulated Industries. In the 2003 article on the Best and Worst Legislators, I wrote that Delisi, who made the Best list, was the most underrated member of the House due to her low-key style. Maybe that was true then; it certainly isn’t now. I know of no member who commanded more respect. Her great strength was a moral force that enabled her to rise above politics and partisanship and infused her personality with a quality that you don’t often encounter in politics: serenity. The 2003 session was the worst I have seen–unceasing turmoil and partisan bitterness–but not when Delisi was involved. When I was considering her for the Best list that year, I called up Garnet Coleman, the Democrats’ point man on public health issues. “It was like the old days,” he said, referring to her committee. “There were no R’s and no D’s. Just good public policy.” If there were a Hall of Fame for Texas legislators, she would make it on the first ballot.
I spoke to Delisi after she submitted her resignation. She is hoping for a federal appointment that would enable her “to work with soldiers and their families.” This is good news for soldiers and their families. It was necessary for her to resign her seat in order to be eligible for the appointment. She also intends to join son Ted and daughter-in-law Deirdre in their political consulting business. Few departing legislators leave such a large void.