THE BEST: Bill Ratliff
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 phrase we could find to describe this man’s public service, when we’d used up so many accolades in previous years. In 1991 we wrote that he was “a totally free man–free of partisanship, egotism, ambition.” In 1997 we noted that his Senate colleagues had knighted him “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” after the Star Wars master, for his wisdom. In 2001 he was “an unwavering North Star in a political universe in serious need of guidance, moral and otherwise.”
What’s left? How about canonization? It is an arduous procedure, requiring proof of “heroic virtue” and two miracles. Saint Bill of Mount Pleasant demonstrated plenty of the former when he returned to his desk on the Senate floor after serving as lieutenant governor, a post to which his colleagues elected him after Perry’s promotion to governor. He bypassed running for a full term rather than mortgage his independence to bigwig Republican donors and handled his reentry with grace and class. He refused to let the bitterness of that experience impede his work with Dewhurst, who used his vast personal fortune to win the office Ratliff coveted. Now for the miracles. Forget loaves and fishes: After he was ingeniously picked up by Dewhurst to fix the overreaching tort-reform legislation passed by the House, Ratliff took a fetid stew of special interests and reworked it into a palatable dish that may become a national model, with creative solutions for encouraging settlements in a fair manner. He held out as long as he could against arbitrary limits on pain and suffering awards to victims of medical malpractice; then, just when it seemed he had chosen martyrdom, he achieved a compromise that doubled the amount injured parties could receive in some circumstances.
For his second miracle, Ratliff simply spoke the truth. He took the Senate floor to say that the budget was a disgrace, that instread of cutting essential services, the Legislature should have raised taxes. Fora Republican to say that without getting burned at the stake–now that is truly miraculous.