Political Obituaries
Sun October 2, 2011 12:37 pm

STEVE OGDEN

He was the best senator of his time, the most visionary, the most respected. A perennial Ten Best legislator, he chaired Senate Finance throughout Dewhurst’s years as Lieutenant Governor. Most chairman do what just about every other chairman has done–add a few dollars to an agency’s budget here, subtract a few dollars there–but Ogden had a strong moral sense that drove him to tackle the biggest problems, especially the mismangement of Tx-DOT and the governance failures at Texas Southern University. (The overhaul of TYC also happened on his watch, but it was primarily the work of John Whitmire and state rep Jerry Madden.) When he was elected president pro tem of the Senate in January, he followed Governor Perry’s lackluster remarks with a stirring challenge to the Senate to address the state’s biggest problems, which he identified as fixing school finance, fixing the margins tax, and addressing the structural decificit in the budget. Watching Perry and Ogden speak, successively, one could not help but ask, Why is the first guy governor instead of the second guy? No senator paid greater attention to his duty or less attention to politics. He leaves a huge vacancy but no heir-apparent, as the next lieutenant governor may be chosen by the Senate, and there is no obvious successor. If theere were a legislative hall of fame, he would be elected on the first ballot. How will we get along without him?

WILL HARTNETT

A Ten Best legislator in 2011, he went about his business, which mostly involved tweaks to obscure areas of state law, in a quiet and professional manner. He will be remembered for two things: one was his fight with Terry Keel over increasing judicial salaries, and the other was two election contests in which Hartnett, a Republican, had to officiate challenges by Republicans against Democrats. The first occasion, in 2005, was brought by Republican Talmadge Heflin, then the powerful chair of the Appropriations committee, against Democrat Hubert Vo. The second, in 2011, was brought by Republican Dan Neil against Democrat Donna Howard. In both cases Hartnett did meticulous research, wrote meticulous briefs–and ruled for the member of the opposition party. He brought honor to the House.

FLORENCE SHAPIRO

Shapiro was the longtime chair of the Senate Education committee. She helped fashion the state’s accountability system and made a significant contribution by changing the state-overseen TAKS tests (the acronym changed from time to time) to end-of-course exams. I’m not surprised by her retirement, because we had a conversation or two outside the rail in the Senate, and it was clear she was very frustrated with Dewhurst’s about-face on the Rainy Day fund and Perry’s refusal to use it to fund education. She was a true champion for public schools.

CHRIS HARRIS

Harris chose not to run again, probably because he has been targeted for defeat by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the worst bullies in the Capitol. His decision not to run ends a twenty-year career in the Senate. Harris has not been in good health for several sessions, and it has affected his performance in the Senate. He has been a strong supporter of mental health and other health care issues, but he has also been known to fly off the handle at citizens who testify before his committee. Apparently he was just too independent for TLR.

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