The impulse to make best and worst lists is sown in the nature of man. By the time my firstborn had reached the age of three, she had established her own pecking order for McDonald’s, Burger King, and Jack in the Box. If you walk into any high school, everybody knows who the best and worst teachers are. Lawyers make it their business to determine the best and worst judges at the courthouse. Quarterbacks know who gets the ball on third down; basketball coaches know who should take the last shot. Some of these lists—best-sellers and the Top 40, for example—are determined objectively. Others, like Texas Monthly’s biennial assessment of the best and worst legislators, are more subjective; nevertheless, they seek to reflect a consensus among the experts—in our case, the people who do business at the Capitol. Politics is like any other profession: Its practitioners have to know whose word they can trust, who can solve difficult problems, who gives good advice, and who doesn’t.
This edition of the list marks the eighteenth time that we’ve sorted through the Legislature’s good and bad. The inspiration for the original story was a widely circulated piece by Nina Totenberg in a now-forgotten magazine called New Times that named the ten dumbest members of Congress. Texas Monthly’s founding editor, William Broyles, wanted our story to be positive as well as negative, and that has been the template ever since. The first list, in the post—Sharpstown scandal year of 1973, was based on members’ general reputations and was full of juicy quotes from unnamed lobbyists and legislators. Over the years, the list has come to reflect the impact that lawmakers have had on the session, for better or worse, and quotes from anonymous sources have been phased out in favor of events that are part of the public record.
The original Best and Worst story was arguably the