The Eighty-fourth Legislature was like a professional baseball team that had just seen many of its starters retire—or not have their contracts renewed by management. In the most dramatic changing of the guard in more than a decade, Texas elected a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, agriculture commissioner, and land commissioner (whose last name happens to be Bush, lest things become <em>too</em> unfamiliar). In the House and the Senate, a number of powerful committees in both chambers had new chairs, including House Appropriations and Senate Finance, which are responsible for the budget. As with any team, there were clutch hits, some dramatic runs, and a couple of embarrassing errors. <!--break--> The session started on an uneasy note. Gun advocates descended on the Capitol in a show of force that led to heightened tension among some members. In one episode, open carry advocates entered the office of a state representative, and an unsettling exchange occurred before they finally left. Not long after that, another state representative made ignorant comments about Muslim Americans and asked her staff to have visitors to her office renounce terrorism and swear allegiance to the United States (more about that in the Worst list). The weirdness continued when a conservative group announced that it had shot more than eight hundred hours of video of members and lobbyists in compromising positions—but then didn’t release any of it. Once the Legislature settled in, however, the session lacked the fireworks seen in previous years. By far the most interesting dynamic was the relationship between Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and veteran Speaker of the House Joe Straus. For a time it appeared that sharp differences in the Senate and House tax plans would bring the whole session down, but in the end the argument was resolved, and the Lege was able to send a budget, which included $3.8 billion in tax relief, to the governor’s desk and avoid a special session. As the calendar wound down, lawmakers passed a contingent of bills that balanced red-meat politics with public policy investment. There was money for border security—and funding for pre-kindergarten education. There were bills for open carry and campus carry—and $3.1 billion for university construction projects. The Legislature could also check off a box related to transportation. In the end, it did not move forward on school vouchers or the abolition of the DREAM Act for undocumented students who want to attend public universities. As with every session since its founding, <em>Texas Monthly</em> was at the Capitol to cover the proceedings from the opening gavel to sine die. Over the 140 days of the Eighty-fourth Legislature, our team stayed late on the floor of the House and the Senate, watched countless committee hearings, and ate way too many meals in the Capitol Grill with staffers, lobbyists, and interested observers. All of that reporting culminates in our biennial list of the Ten Best and the Ten Worst legislators. We are not interested in ideology or grandstanding; we follow the major issues and look for those lawmakers who are thoughtful, trustworthy, and willing to work cooperatively with other members to make Texas a better place. That has been the hallmark of the Best and Worst list since 1973, and it remains so more than forty years later.

Forget chocolate-covered strawberries, dozens of roses, and the fondu pot. No, all you need to woo your Valentine today is this recipe. Sure, it’s a little labor-intensive, but trust me. It’s worth the time, the effort, and all the pre-baking finger-licking you can handle. And here’s a plus: if you and your honey spend time cooking it together in the kitchen, you can both enjoy the taste-as-you-go spoils of this rich, decadent, super-delicious cake. Although, I made it while home alone one afternoon last week and kept all the bowl-licking to myself, thank you very much. I sent half of this cake with my husband to work (the other half was enjoyed by me and a few friends on girls’ night) and one of his colleagues—who shall, of course, remain nameless for her own protection—said, “I need that recipe. With it, I could get my husband to do anything.” Mmm-hmmm. It’s that good. Do me a favor and just throw your initial reaction (“Root beer? In a chocolate cake? Huh!?!”) to the wayside, wrangle the ingredients together, and bake this cake whether you’ve got a Valentine or not. Seriously, you won’t regret it. And of course, not just any root beer will do for this cake. Nope, you need the good stuff. So turn to Texas’s own Saint Arnold’s old-fashioned pure cane sugar Root Beer. Diet root beer won’t cut it, and neither will the stuff laced with high fructose corn syrup. To make this cake right, you need the real stuff, across the board, so don’t skimp. St. Arnold’s Root Beer Chocolate Bundt Cake Very slightly adapted from this recipe, found at The Kitchn. Ingredients Cake 2 cups St. Arnold’s Root Beer 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar 2 large eggs 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda 1 teaspoon salt Frosting 2 ounces dark chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup St. Arnold’s Root Beer 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar For the cake: 1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour the bundt pan. 2. In a large saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder, and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool. 3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together. 4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy–do not overbeat, as it could cause the cake to be tough. 5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. For the frosting: 1. Melt the chocolate over low heat on the stove. Add the rest of the ingedients and stir. 2. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool. 3. Whisk the cooled mixture to make sure it’s mixed well and stiff enough to frost.