Joe Pickett accomplished the near impossible this session: he made people feel sorry for Representative Jonathan Stickland. The trouble started when Stickland, the bomb thrower from Bedford, knocked one of Pickett’s bills off a calendar. Later that day, Pickett had a chance for payback: his Transportation Committee was set to hear a Stickland bill.
Reporting from the Texas Legislature, with investigation and analysis of the state's economy, public policy, education, and more.
To be fair, Jane Nelson spent the session in a thankless position. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, she was trapped under the leadership of a new lieutenant governor with “bold” ideas and serious boundary issues. It was Dan Patrick, not Nelson, who came up with the idea that Texas’s Republican leaders could spend billions of dollars on property tax relief and preserve their “conservative” credentials by refusing to label it as spending.
Judicial temperament usually includes a willingness to consider all sides of an argument, a trait Joan Huffman, a former judge, rarely displayed this session. Intransigence earned Huffman a spot on the Worst list in 2013, and intransigence—along with a bit of self-dealing—has landed her there again.
It was hard to tell if Harold Dutton was acting out of hubris, incompetence, or some churlish mix of both. Whatever the cause, he very nearly scuttled one of his priority bills of the session: grand jury reform.
Let’s start with the positive for Donna Campbell. She was assigned to carry one of Greg Abbott’s priority initiatives: enhanced funding for pre-K programs. She handled that ably enough, ushering it to passage, and so the fact that she’s landed on the Worst list is an indication of just how dreadfully Campbell performed on nearly everything else.
Cecil Bell Jr. has become known around the Capitol for two things: wearing a cowboy hat and—in his second session at least—filing bills to prevent gay marriage in Texas. We’d love to see more of those hats on the floor; they bring much-needed flair to the House. But we’d love to see less of his legislation.
The Legislature will miss Sylvester Turner. Often called “the conscience of the House,” he’s retiring after 26 years to run for mayor of Houston. He was typically at the center of the action, defending vulnerable Texans with oratory that stirred the soul.
Turner has twice appeared on the Best list and once on the Worst. Two years ago, we named him Bull of the Brazos. This session, however, he was once again one of the Legislature’s best.
As chair of the House Republican Caucus, Tan Parker might have behaved this session like a strident partisan. Instead, he was one of the people who made the Eighty-fourth Legislature somewhat productive, leading the Republicans while also working well with Democrats.
John Otto didn’t show off much this session. He wasn’t often seen at the front microphone, yet few did better work on behalf of the state. As a first-time chair of the Appropriations Committee, he tackled the biggest job of the session: passing a budget. That’s never an easy task in Texas, which has one of the lowest per capita spending rates in the country and plenty of real needs. And this time around, it was harder than it should have been.
Illness has battered the body but not the spirit of Ruth Jones McClendon. Surgery late last year to remove water from the brain had left her so weak that she used an electric scooter to get around and found it difficult to speak this session, yet her record of achievement is undeniable.