The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

There’s an old joke that goes like this: A girl is out milking the family cow one morning when a stranger rolls up and asks if her parents are at home. The girl yells out, “Mama, there’s a man here to see you!” Her mother peers out the door and, seeing the man, says to her daughter, “Get in the house! Haven’t I told you not to talk to strangers?”

But, Mama,” the girl protests, “he says he’s a state senator.”

Well, then,” says the woman, “bring the cow too!”

There’s a lot of this sentiment going around. Nobody likes politicians much these days. One unfortunate fact about our democracy is that only a relatively small number of citizens actually participate in it. Even last November, after a campaign that galvanized voters on the right, only 27 percent of the voting-age population in Texas cast ballots in the general election. What’s the matter with that other 73 percent? Why didn’t they care? A fair number of them are registered to vote, so it’s not correct to say they’re completely disengaged, but many of them, like the woman in the joke, probably feel that they’d just as soon stay away (along with their children and livestock) from all politicians. They don’t trust them. Or maybe they’re stymied by the complexity of issues like health care and school finance, unable to sort out the politics from the policy, and as a result the whole enterprise remains at arm’s length, something only half-­understood and all too often ignored.

The premise of our Best and Worst Legislators story is that what matters most

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