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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE BEST: Representative Brian McCall


He was an essential member of the insurgent Republican coalition—known as the ABCs, for “Anybody but Craddick”—that joined with the Democrats to unseat Speaker Tom Craddick. Until Craddick conceded defeat to Joe Straus, the ABCs’ choice to replace him, it appeared that McCall, a longtime Craddick critic who had twice sought the speakership himself, might never have the opportunity to put his manifold talents to use. For most of Craddick’s tempestuous six-year reign, McCall was relegated to legislative purgatory, so far from the center of the action that he had ample time to write a book about how recent Texas governors have exercised power. By the time he was finished, so was Craddick.

In the postrevolutionary House, McCall emerged as chairman of the Calendars Committee, the most important position after the speakership. Calendars is the gatekeeper committee, with life or death power over all bills; nothing can cause more resentment and turmoil than the perception that Calendars is treating members unfairly. When McCall got his assignment from Straus, the first thing he did was contact nearly every living former chairman of the committee to ask his advice. In a House with 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats, he made sure that he set equal numbers of Republican- and Democratic-sponsored bills for debate. Calendars generated less controversy than it had in years, restoring the expectation of fairness for all House members.

McCall and his fellow insurgents did not seek power for themselves; most are nearer the end of their legislative careers than the beginning. Rather, they sought to demolish the authoritarian, partisan model for the speakership that Craddick had created and replace it with one that was based on fairness rather than fear, on shifting power from the Speaker’s office back to the membership. A remarkable thing happened: It worked.

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