Honorable and Dishonorable Mention ... and Others
Fri June 15, 2007 6:48 am

A correspondent took us to task for not elaborating on the members who were listed under “Dishonorable Mention.” The blog affords the opportunity to comment on them and on other members. Let’s start with:

Honorable Mention

Rob Eissler was a breath–make that a windstorm–of fresh air compared to his predecessor as chairman of Public Education, Kent Grusendorf. He was concerned with good policy rather than ideology. He allowed his committee members to be independent, and they achieved a good chemistry. This was not a big session for public ed, but next session Eissler will be charged with writing new school finance formulas and overhauling the accountability system.

Sen. Kevin Eltife is tough, pragmatic, independent, and, when he wants to be, funny. That’s one reason his colleagues hold him in high regard after just two sessions. Another is that he’s a problem solver. When the conference committee on the electric bill blew up, Dewhurst turned to him to put it back together.

Dan Gattis, a Best in 2005, had another excellent session. He was the chief House negotiator on the Human Services budget and helped undo some of the damage that was done in 2003. He has a sixth sense for when things are going awry and steps into floor debate at timely moments, as he did on Jessica’s Law and the tense fight over Charlie Howard’s management of the local and consent calendar. He would have even more influence if his speeches didn’t sound as if he were rehearsing his inaugural address as president.

Fred Hill, also a best in 05, attained the status of an elder statesman this session with his principled opposition to speaker Craddick’s leadership. Hill has also killed two questionable ideas–appraisal caps and revenue caps–the hard way, in conversations with individual members.

Sen. Juan Hinojosa was the first to expose the rot in the Texas Youth Commission in 2004 and was the first to file a bill to reform the system, well before the explosive stories about sexual abuse became public knowledge this year. His bill became the basis of the reform of the system.

The Insurgency was the hardest call we had to make in finalizing the Best and Worst list. We decided (1) that we couldn’t leave them unmentioned; (2) that we would mention them collectively instead of individually; and (3) that they were too effective to be on the Worst list or Dishonorable Mention and too destructive to be on the Best list. Individually: I thought Dunnam found the right tone this session: more lawyer than politician. He turned parliamentary inquiries into an art form. He made a vow not to whine about unfairness and made good on it. Gallego and Coleman rounded out the first team. Coleman is always right on the line of being on the microphone too much, but, like Dunnam, he improved his tone. His great strength is his encyclopedic knowledge of the Health and Human Services budget. Talton showed great skill when raising his points of order; he would ask questions that boxed in the bill’s sponsor and laid the predicate for his points. The insurgents’ goal was to put Craddick under pressure so that wavering members would see that the speaker had not, would not, and could not change, and they achieved it, even though Craddick did make a real effort to try. In the end, however, they misjudged the end game by trying to topple Craddick during the session.

John Smithee and Burt Solomons deserve lifetime achievement awards. Each oversees an important committee, Insurance for Smithee and Financial Institutions for Solomons, where the potential for monkey business is great, and, session after session, their work on legislation is of the highest quality and integrity. Smithee, like Gattis, fills the essential role of being a custodian of the institution when the House gets off the track. He was the first to blow the whistle on Debbie Riddle’s mishandling of the debate on Jessica’s Law. Solomons skillfully managed the adoption of House rules, which involved some lively debate. Just imagine what it will be like in 2009.

Mark Strama made the clearest case against the speaker’s megacontroversial ruling that he has the power to deny recognition to any member, even a member who is asserting a matter of privilege. Here was the core of his remarks on personal privilege: “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 all of you, I’m sure, I’ve felt like we’ve been through the looking glass for the last couple of days. 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 nor less.’ Alice says, ‘The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things,’ and Humpty Dumpty says, ‘The question is who is master. That’s all.’ That’s 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 precedents, 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.”

Senfronia Thompson may be the only member of the House who is as tough and relentless as Tom Craddick. No one wants to mess with her. No one wants to see her at the back mike in opposition. She’s not a textbook example of a good legislator, but she is a textbook example of a member who by sheer tenacity has made herself a force to reckoned with.

Sen. John Whitmire was a strong force for common-sense criminal justice policies, particularly in helping lead the TYC investigation, in arguing for alternatives to the construction of new prisons, and in trying to get Dewhurst to accept changes to Jessica’s Law. His rant at Dewhurst over the Voter ID bill rendered him ineligible for the Best list this session.

Dishonorable Mention

Kino Flores is one of the least trusted members. When he presented his bill to provide tax breaks for RV trailers in Hidalgo County, he represented that local officials supported his bill and that no other county was affected. Neither was true.

Pat Haggerty got carried away with his opposition to Speaker Craddick, who wouldn’t recognize members for a motion to vote on whether he should keep his job. He made a personal privilege speech in which he began reading the roll, calling on members to ask how they would vote (a violation of the rules for personal privilege speeches). When members didn’t respond, he called for a walkout of members who would vote to oust the speaker, trivializing months of work to undermine Craddick’s support.

Linda Harper-Brown would have made the Worst list if we were choosing eleven Worsts instead of ten. She offered an amendment to the appropriations bill that would make the children of LEGAL immigrants inelegible for health benefits and suffered one of the biggest drubbings of the session when her amendment was tabled by a vote of 136-5. When John Smithee called upon the House to postpone the debate on Jessica’s Law because (although he didn’t put it exactly this way) Debbie Riddle couldn’t explain or argue the issues, Harper-Brown accused him of trying to kill the bill. Anyone who has served three terms and still doesn’t know that Smithee is a person of unimpeachable integrity deserves to be on the Worst list.

Sid Miller worked against a charter school reform bill that would have adversely affected a charter school operated by his wife. He was also involved in one of the biggest blowups of the session, when his bill to protect historical monuments and plaques from removal (including Confederate monuments) generated heated opposition from black legislators. This led to a polarizing two-hour debate that Miller could have prevented by voluntarily pulling his bill down, which he eventually had to do.

Chente Quentanilla carries water, so to speak, for the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1, a politically connected irrigation district. His stumbling attempt to amend the big water management bill on the district’s behalf made it difficult to tell whether his inability to explain what he was doing was feigned or real. The amendment, which critics back home said was intended to help the district escape oversight, ultimately was removed from the bill.

Mike O’Day engaged in ungentlemanly personal conduct.

Bill Zedler is a goofball. There’s no other way to put it. He contributes nothing except to provide occasional comic relief, mainly by laughing uncontrollably when others make fun of him, as when an amendment he wrote was so illegible that speaker Craddick told members they just had to look at it on their computer screens.

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