Every January of an odd-numbered year, Austin is overrun by lawmakers who arrive to begin a new legislative session. No one knows more about that experience than Midland’s Tom Craddick, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1968 and served as Speaker from 2003 to 2009. He was sworn in for his twenty-third term last month.

When I joined the Legislature, I received a per diem of $10. Most lawmakers lived together, and I shared two adjoining apartments with seven other members on Riverside Drive, near that old Ramada Inn with the gondolas. I was the only Republican in our group.

Austin didn’t have four thousand restaurants in those days, so we’d often go to dinner at the Magic Time Machine. Today, when you see members out for a meal, they’re usually with lobbyists. Back then the biggest lobby event happened every Wednesday at noon, when Buck Buchanan of the beer lobby made fried catfish and hush puppies for the members.

In the evenings, the members would go to the movies together, and we’d also go to a club called the Citadel that was in the Driskill Hotel. When Billy Clayton was elected Speaker of the House, in 1975, we’d all go to the honky-tonk the Broken Spoke. I think there was more camaraderie among members because we did more things together. But after all these years, I still love the legislative process. Every time I get sworn in, I have this feeling in my stomach that makes me feel like I’m special.