Tenure: Representative from 1977 to 1999
Number of times on the Best list: 3
I was the first Hispanic speaker pro tempore in the history of the House. I served under Gib Lewis, and he later told me that the reason he selected me is that he needed someone who could help work the floor and keep the agenda together. He didn’t want it to be a ceremonial position, as it usually had been—and as it has been ever since. And I would never trade the six years that I chaired the Public Health Committee. You had control over the entire medical community, including hospitals and nursing homes. You had control over funeral parlors. You were in charge of everything from being born to being put in the grave. My entire time in the Legislature I heard that we want less government, we want less regulation. But when I went to Public Health, it was all about regulation. Everybody wants to be certified, and everybody wants to be licensed.
I wish sometimes that I was still there to help navigate these issues, but of course it would be a little harder. It’s real simple what’s happening in Austin, in my opinion. There’s no semblance of lawmakers trying to work together. There’s disengagement between the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s office and the Speaker’s office. I have the feeling that they are not on the same page. I believe that if George Bush remained governor during this period there’s no way he would have allowed the substitution of the franchise tax with a margins tax that was going to create a structural deficit that keeps getting bigger. The current leaders won’t face up to the fact that there’s a problem, and they keep hoping that the economy will bail us out. So we’re whacking away at public education. We’re whacking away at higher education. And what does that do for our future workforce?
When I was a lawmaker, we used to kid around and say, “Thank God for Mississippi. At least we’re three notches above that state.” I am convinced now that we want to be Mississippi. We want the whole world to know who we are and what we don’t have. Now when other states talk about how bad their situation is, they’ll say, “Thank