Republican, Plano, 51. Seeing Florence Shapiro at work is like watching a soap opera. The heroine is attractive and articulate but so eager to step on her neighbors on her way to the top that she turns into a villain. What will that woman do next? Whom will she feud with today? And now, our guide to the daytime drama:
Scene one: Shapiro sponsors a bill requiring paroled sex offenders to be confined in a mental institution. John Whitmire of Houston, a longtime Shapiro nemesis, objects to spending $20 million to supervise just fifteen offenders and offers a $4 million alternative. She refuses to negotiate. Whitmire persuades other senators to kill her bill because of the cost. She accuses him of “playing politics with the public’s safety.” Rick Perry has to call in mediators. They agree with Whitmire. She passes the compromise, but only after griping about it on the floor and forgoing the usual Senate courtesy of thanking others who worked on it. Afterward, Perry makes a speech thanking Shapiro—and Whitmire.
Scene two: Shapiro promises lobbyists for doctors that her bill requiring minors who are seeking abortions to notify their parents will not impose criminal penalties on physicians. But it does. She agrees to a small change, but the risk of doctors’ going to jail remains. Later, her bill gets stuck in a House committee chaired by Steve Wolens, another old nemesis (see a pattern here?). There are several sticking points, including criminal penalties for doctors. She still won’t agree to a change. When Wolens sends a different bill to the full House, offering doctors a defense against criminal penalties, she accuses him of trying to kill the bill. Eventually she has to agree to a bill that protects doctors from doing time.
Scene three: Yet another tiff, this time with fellow Republican Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, imperils all of Wentworth’s remaining bills—including an important open-meetings reform that requires staff briefings of elected bodies to be held in public. Only after newspapers around the state denounce her (“Florence Shapiro’s dictatorial behavior as head of the Senate State Affairs Committee last week was a perfect example of how petty personal politics can get in the way of good government,” said the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ) does she let the bill pass.
Shapiro’s performance was entertaining—unless you were in the Senate. Perry gave her the chance to have influence, but she blew it—and let him down—by being intransigent, belligerent, and discourteous. Her downfall was simple: She let her power go to her head.