“For Texans who’ve wondered whether there’s a politician walking the halls of the state Capitol who actually votes his or her conscience without first taking an opinion poll,” began a January 16 editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “wonder no longer.” And who might that rare fellow be? Why, it’s Lon Burnam, “the lone dissenting voice in the path of the juggernaut” that propelled Craddick to the speakership. As for the likelihood that Burnam might face retribution, the editorial noted, “Let’s be real—in a GOP-controlled statehouse, Burnam was roadkill before the first gavel pounded.”
The editorial reflects a certain view of politics: that your fate is determined by which team you play on, not how well you play. But even in the highly partisan House under Craddick, that just wasn’t true. Craig Eiland wasn’t roadkill. Steve Wolens wasn’t roadkill. They followed their conscience and made the Best list. There’s an easy way to avoid being roadkill: Stay out of the road. Burnam jumped onto Interstate 35 during rush hour when he voted against Craddick. Other Democrats voted for Craddick not because they were craven but because they didn’t want to look petty and partisan on a meaningless vote. There would be plenty of meaningful issues to take a stand on later.
But not for Burnam. Craddick banished him to the Agriculture and Livestock Committee, one of Dante’s lower circles—particularly for someone like Burnam, who doesn’t eat red meat. (To his credit, Burnam, who has a sense of humor, marked his first committee meeting by showing up on the House floor in blue jeans, a denim jacket, and a cowboy tie given him by a colleague.)
In the previous session, he served on the Insurance Committee; had he remained on the panel, he would have been in the middle of the fight over soaring homeowners’ rates, thereby situated to help his constituents. Instead, he was reduced to defending his relevance. “Are you aware,” he asked the author of an amendment, “that I started talking about the homeowner-insurance crisis my first term as a freshman legislator, six years ago? … And are you aware that we filed legislation to try to address the crisis? … [N]obody wanted to listen.” They didn’t then, Lon, and they don’t now.