Think of the change in leadership in the House, from Democrat to Republican, as a geological cataclysm akin to the meteor crash in the Yucatán Peninsula 65 million years ago that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Now imagine that, as the dust settles, one lone Tyrannosaurus rex survives to find his place among the mammals. Meet Craig Eiland, the only Democrat who kept his independence from the Craddick team yet managed to grow in stature and influence during the session.
Easily recognizable on the House floor for his ramrod posture, Eiland was a major player in three of the biggest issues of the session: human services funding, tort reform, and homeowners’ insurance reform. The reasons he succeeded where other Democrats failed provide an object lesson in how to be a member of the minority: maintain good relations with the other side, operate behind the scenes instead of fighting on the House floor, and value compromise over conflict. Eiland and Republican healthcare guru Arlene Wohlgemuth built a relationship last session out of their shared concern over insufficient funding of nursing homes; it paid off when he and Wohlgemuth generally agreed that any cuts in aid to the poor should fall on the most well-off (participants in the Children’s Health Insurance Program with incomes well above the poverty line) rather than the least well-off (Medicaid recipients). In the tort-reform fight, he persuaded the bill’s sponsor, Republican Joe Nixon, to accept an amendment guaranteeing that injured people will not lose their insurance benefits if they win lawsuit damages.
Eiland’s most valuable contribution came in the fight over homeowners’ insurance reform, when he found a middle ground between free-market Republicans, who want companies to be able to change their rates first and then submit to regulation, and regulation-minded Democrats, who want the reverse. His achievements were even more impressive in light of what was occurring in his personal life; in the middle of the session, his wife gave birth to premature twins whose lives hung in the balance. They’re fine now, and thanks to Eiland, so is a lot of good legislation. After the insurance bill passed, its Republican sponsor, John Smithee, paid his Democratic ally a rare tribute from the microphone: “There would not be an insurance bill without the work of Craig Eiland.”