The Best and Worst Legislators 2009
The Eighty-First Legislature was like Seinfeld: a show about nothing. It was dominated by an event that was a year away, the looming 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary battle between Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, and by issues that were political rather than substantive, none more so than the session-long battle over voter ID. And it achieved nothing, other than an endless succession of dying bills, forlorn hopes, and bitter recriminations in the closing days.
The major event of the session was a sea change in the leadership, as Joe Straus replaced Tom Craddick as Speaker. This upgrade brought about an instant change in the culture of the House, and for most of the session the lower chamber functioned in a bipartisan manner that was reminiscent of the Pete Laney era. Straus was so immersed in learning his new job that he did not really work closely with the other members of the leadership troika, Governor Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. But it is clear that he is not their kind of Republican, and vice versa. That difference will become evident soon enough.
Of the few success stories, the most notable was the 2010—2011 state budget, which was rescued from red ink by the timely arrival of federal stimulus dollars. Budget negotiators juggled the welcome largesse to provide much-needed funding for public schools (including start-up money for prekindergarten), health care, and highways. But the good news is destined to be short-lived, because—spoiler alert!—a combination of spending needs, tax cuts, and revenue shortfalls have created a structural deficit in future years that even an economic rebound may not be sufficient to overcome.
And so another session is on the books. This legislative wrap-up marks the nineteenth time, beginning with the Sixty-Third Legislature, in 1973, that we have compiled our list of the Best and Worst lawmakers. Our criteria are those that members apply to one another: Who is trustworthy? Who gets things done? Who brings credit upon the Legislature and who brings shame? Who does his homework? Who looks for ways to solve problems and who looks for ways to create them? Who is hamstrung by ideology and partisanship and who can rise above them? Politics is not just about conservatives and liberals and Republicans and Democrats. It is and always will be about personality and relationships and comportment—not that there’s anything wrong with that.