63rd Legislature (1973)
The first session for which we produced a list of the Ten Best and the Ten Worst Legislators, the Sixty-third was unlike any other. The Legislature had been elected in the wake of the Sharpstown banking and stock fraud scandal, which felled Governor Preston Smith, Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, and Speaker Gus Mutscher and resulted in a House of Representatives in which freshmen constituted a majority. No wonder we observed that “the legislature is the best entertainment Texas has to offer.” Little did we know.
64th Legislature (1975)
“The sight of the Texas legislature in action is not likely to inspire perorations about the democratic process,” we declared. Most members were still in recovery from a six-month constitutional convention that had failed to win approval for a new document that would govern the state. The most important occurrence was the election of Billy Clayton as Speaker—he would go on to serve an unheard-of four terms, setting a precedent for long speakerships, which have been the norm ever since.
65th Legislature (1977)
For most of the fifties and sixties, the lobby had been dominated by the so-called Big Four: Harry Whitworth (chemicals), Bill Abbington (oil and gas), Jim Yancey (big business), and Walter Caven (railroads). But in the Sixty-fifth, two Houston lawyers, Sandy Sanford and Dean Cobb, busted the monopoly by backing a proposal by Houston Natural Gas (later to evolve into Enron) to build a coal slurry pipeline from Colorado to Texas. The railroads resisted the crossing of their right-of-way, but Sanford and Cobb prevailed. This was the first appearance of the “hired gun” lobbyist, and for good reason. There was plenty of money flying around, but it was, we wrote, “a scene reminiscent of The Old Man and the Sea: while legislators were contemplating how to handle their massive catch, the sharks got it first.”
66th Legislature (1979)
The seminal event was the flight of the Killer Bees, twelve Democratic state senators who walked out to prevent a vote on a presidential primary bill and dodged the DPS for four days. By the time they returned, the bill was dead. “The flight of the Bees may have been a last hurrah for the old days and the old ways,” we wrote. “The Texas Legislature, in its 132nd year, is going through a belated change of life. The good-old-boy approach to politics isn’t enough anymore.”
67th Legislature (1981)
This was the year we ceased using the term “liberal Democrats.” It had become redundant. We still recognized “conservative Democrats,” but on the left, Democrats were just plain