July 2003 Issue

July 2003 Issue Cover

Features

Honorable Mention

Nobody bumped into more obstacles on his way to passing an important bill than the balding, bespectacled, Mr. Magoo­like chairman of the House Insurance Committee, whose charge was to bring down homeowners’ rates without driving insurance companies out of Texas. It wasn’t going to be easy. First, a group of…

Law And Disorder

In the different fates of Joe Nixon and Bill Ratliff lies a message about how politics works. Each is a Republican. Each worked hard on tort reform. Each guided a version of the bill through his chamber pretty much intact, without unwanted amendments. Yet Nixon is on the Worst list…

A Terrible Disappointment

As chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Jim Dunnam had the most difficult role in politics: leader of the opposition. You have to decide whether to work within the system, which was the course Republicans generally followed for the past quarter century, or whether to challenge, obstruct, delay, call out…

In Memoriam

If she had been nothing more than the first Hispanic woman elected to the Legislature, Irma Rangel would deserve her place in our political pantheon. But she was so much more. She was a mentor, a role model, and a lawmaker who in 1997 passed a bill that changed Texas:…

Crass Action

What a dismal story this is. A young lawyer gets elected to the House, and even before she is sworn in, she cashes in, using a legal but long-discredited stratagem available only to legislator-lawyers: the legislative continuance. State law provides that lawmakers with pending cases can ask for a delay…

The Grudge Report

Some people carry a chip on their shoulder. Yvonne Davis carries the whole tree. So frequently does her participation in debate turn sour that the Capitol crowd refers to her as Whyvonne, as in, “Why is she acting like this?” Never was that question on more lips than in the…

Furniture

The term “furniture” describes members who, by virtue of their indifference or inactivity, were indistinguishable from their desks, chairs, and spittoons. Herewith, a tasteful display of the state’s Stickleys and Chippendales. EMPTY FURNITURE Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (Democrat, Austin) won a plum seat on the Senate Finance Committee, and he…

Do The Wrong Thing

Two sessions ago Troy Fraser made the Worst list because of his propensity for snatching bills from other senators. We noted then that his ambition to handle major legislation exceeded his colleagues’ faith in his competence. Could this raucous kindergartner handle the difficult first-grade requirements: Wait your turn, don’t shove,…

Unfaithfully Yours

Your cheatin’ heart will make you weep. You’ll cry and cry and try to sleep. But sleep won’t come the whole night through. Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you. Some might argue that all’s fair in love and politics. But in the Senate, fidelity is the…

Pest

Would someone please give Tom DeLay a map? No, not a redistricting map. He has plenty of those. A road map. He’s a member of the House of Representatives, all right, but it’s the one in Congress, not the one on Congress Avenue. That didn’t stop him from trying to…

She Cares

Dianne Delisi has a peculiar idea about politics: She thinks that you can succeed just by coming up with good ideas, working hard, and being nice. Well, that might work for the president of the PTA back home, but everybody knows that the way to get ahead in the Capitol…

State Bar

If Texas politics is your thing and you live in Austin, sometimes you want to go where every lobbyist knows your name. And they're always glad you came.

Dishonorable Mention

The Best and the Worst Legislators story has always been about process—the sausage-making rather than the sausage. Ends are important, but what really matters are the means. Are members treated fairly by the leadership? Can they vote their conscience? Is the lobby in the driver’s seat? By these standards, Tom…

Have Mercy

He was the point man for the good guys on the most important issue of the session. He spent his days and nights fighting the bad guys, and it almost did him in. With the Legislature facing a $9.9 billion shortfall, it fell to Teel Bivins, the chairman of the…

Leader

For thirty years our policy has been that presiding officers are not eligible for the Best or the Worst list except in exceptional circumstances. These are exceptional circumstances. David Dewhurst began with the lowest of expectations and ended with the highest of praise. The former land commissioner’s election as lieutenant…

The Player

Steve Wolens isn’t much of a sports fan, so he isn’t likely to appreciate a baseball metaphor, but he seemed this session like a Hall of Fame­bound pitcher who has lost a little of his zest for the game. He still throws his fastball as hard as ever, but the…

No Man Is An. . .

Think of the change in leadership in the House, from Democrat to Republican, as a geological cataclysm akin to the meteor crash in the Yucatán Peninsula 65 million years ago that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Now imagine that, as the dust settles, one lone Tyrannosaurus rex survives…

Pulpit Bully

Robert Talton’s legislative program consists primarily of trying to enact his prejudices into law. He is far from the first to come to the House for such a purpose, but what sets him apart are the fury of his biases and the extremity of his remedies. Take, for example, his…

The Bobby Riggs Award

Referring to California’s budgetary woes, Governor Rick Perry said, “I get up every day and thank God I don’t live in California.” To which Hilary McLean, the chief deputy press secretary to California governor Gray Davis, replied, “I’m sure there are millions of Californians who wake up every day and…

A Friend In Deed

Like the Good Samaritan who assisted the injured stranger, Robert Duncan couldn’t resist the call of friendless but worthy causes. If there was a difficult job that absolutely had to be performed, senators could always count on him to do the right thing (or, as he says in his West…

Saint Bill

Let’s be honest. We knew on the first day of the session that unless Bill Ratliff lost his mind, he was going to be on the Best list. Everybody knew. He is, as one lobbyist put it, “a redwood among the pines.” The question then became what new phrases we…

Rookie Of The Year

Operating under enormous pressure all session, with Republicans and Democrats gearing up to run against him in his swing district, the 24-year-old UT law student amended the House tort-reform bill to require a medical-malpractice insurance-rate rollback and added a provision to the tuition-deregulation bill raising the amount to be set…

The Avenger

She was Madame Defarge, knitting the names of future victims into the quilt of her memory. Beverly Woolley personified the worst aspect of the new Republican majority in the House: its insatiable appetite for payback against Democrats. And what had the Democrats done, really, except run the state for 130…

Roadkill

“For Texans who’ve wondered whether there’s a politician walking the halls of the state Capitol who actually votes his or her conscience without first taking an opinion poll,” began a January 16 editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “wonder no longer.” And who might that rare fellow be? Why, it’s…

The Best. . .

Best Alternative Nickname for The Killer D’s Weapons of Mass Obstruction Best Souvenir Killer D’s playing cardsU.S. forces in Iraq used playing cards bearing the likenesses of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen to hunt them down. When the Democrats fled the Capitol to defeat the congressional-redistricting bill, political…

George H.W. Bush

FLFW Will See You Now

In a rare interview, George H.W. Bush—a.k.a. the Former Leader of the Free World—disses Newt and the Dixie Chicks, muses on the restorative powers of Maine, and (who'd have imagined?) has nice things to say about the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Steady As He Goes

The lofty title Dean of the Texas Senate is bestowed each session on the senator with the longest tenure and carries with it the unspoken responsibility of protecting the chamber’s dignity and traditions. As with English kings, however, the line of succession does not always produce someone suited to the…

Choose Ice

Dear Arlene, Another session, another letter. Two years ago we wrote to warn you that we were about to ruin your standing with your conservative pals by naming you to the Best list. But you can’t blame us this year. It’s your own fault. Your Republican colleagues were having…

Web

Happy Trails

Happy Trails

I had only 24 hours in Galveston, but that was plenty of time to see the famous Strand, eat some good seafood, and play a little bingo.

Web Exclusive

Tough Call

Senior editor Pamela Colloff discusses abortion, access, and what it's like to work on an emotionally charged story.

Season’s Eatings

AMERICAN PIE We hold this truth to be self-evident: that no Fourth of July celebration is complete without the consumption of vast quantities of fried chicken, potato salad, cherry pie, and such. If you don’t have a time-honored family recipe for cherry pie, you might consider starting a tradition by…

On The Road

WATER WORLD Take to the water the Texas way this summer—in a tube on a river. If you want sustenance afterward, check out these three favorites of ours. The behemoth of Central Texas river restaurants is the 950-seat Gristmill in the historic hamlet of Gruene, on the Guadalupe. With nearly…

Pat's Pick

Cava Bistro

BEST CELLAR A lair for urban animals, Houston’s Cava Bistro feels like a wine cellar in a city where basements are as rare as igloos. The place has been open less than three months, but its rustic rock arches look hundreds of years old. By the light of chandeliers with…

Columns

Reporter

Around the State

Atsbox

Festivals

IT’S NOT THE HEAT, IT’S THE ECCENTRICITY If you’re the type of person who gets tired of festivals in which the highlight is a parade of Shriners in small cars, mark the weekend of July 25, when a few events around the state promise to be a little different. Take…

Atsbox

Latino Arts

AQUI ESTAMOS Latino culture flits on and off the general public’s radar screen, but in Texas, it’s a constant, with a highly visible arts scene. This month there are a few noteworthy events that you won’t want to miss. July 15—September 21: San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum opens “Fantastic…

Atsbox

Get Out

THE WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS With the boys of summer going strong long into the fall, you’ll have plenty of time to grab a hot dog and a beer, sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during a seventh-inning stretch, and strive to catch a foul ball. So forgo…

Atsbox

A Great Weekend in Brownsville

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY Around this time of year, when the heat index hovers in the hundreds, folks start dreaming of cooler temperatures and places north, as in the Pole. But on the weekend of July 25—27, we recommend you travel south, to the tip of Texas. Yeah, it will be hot—just…

Miscellany

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