A conversation with soon-to-be former Representative Vilma Luna did not provide much insight into her retirement; other than the usual comments about wanting to spend more time with her family, the operative expression was, “I’m exploring options in the private sector.” Does that include lobbying? There’s a hot rumor around town that Luna will move to Austin to join Hillco Partners, the lobbying firm formed by Buddy Jones and Bill Miller, a big Luna fan who says, tantalizingly, “She’d make a fantastic lobbyist.” Luna herself will only say, “You’ll see me in Austin one way or another.” Will Luna, who is an experienced litigator (her mentors include former U.S. Attorney Tony Canales and former Harris County D.A. Johnny Holmes), be leaving the Watts Law Firm? A contact at the firm “believes she’ll be staying.”
Luna has served through seven regular sessions and seven special sessions, and it’s not hard to believe that she has had all the fun she can stand, especially since she has been an aisle-crossing ally of Tom Craddick’s – and a highly effective one – since he became speaker in 2003. This has not won her the hearts of her Democratic colleagues, to put it mildly. Patricia Kilday Hart and I, who co-author TEXAS MONTHLY’s biennial Best and Worst Legislators article, found Luna worthy of an honorable mention in 2005 for her work on health and human services issues as vice-chair of the House Appropriations committee. Following committee chairman Talmadge Heflin’s defeat in 2004, she approached Craddick about becoming chairman only to hit the glass ceiling. She was a co-sponsor of Governor Perry’s business tax, which in the view of a high-ranking Perry staffer made it a bipartisan proposal. This description did not appear in an article I wrote praising the bill – as it happened, the sponsors were named after the article went to press – but, as I told the staffer, the Democrats would have hooted me out of the House had I so described it. The major parties in the House are not Republicans and Democrats but pro-Craddicks and anti-Craddicks. No one will miss her more than the Speaker.
Luna’s successor will be chosen by the precinct chairs in her district. Already two major candidates have surfaced: Nueces County Democratic chair Solomon Ortiz, Jr., whose father is a congressman, and former high school principal and Democratic activist Danny Noyola, whose brother is on the Corpus Christi city council. Other candidates may step forward; the Ortiz clan is not looked upon favorably by much of the Democratic establishment, and Noyola lost his job at Miller High School in June when the school board decided to reassign him. Whoever gets the nod will be under intense pressure to toe the party line by the large majority of House Democrats who dream (in vain) of unseating Craddick.