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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE BEST: Representative Craig Eiland

Galveston

In a normal session, he would have had a wide-ranging legislative program involving insurance reforms and other consumer issues, but this was not a normal year for him or his storm-ravaged hometown. Not surprisingly, most of the bills he passed dealt with hurricane recovery efforts, such as waiving a deadline for paying ad valorem taxes in the event of a disaster.

All members try to direct state money to their districts, but for Eiland and Galveston, doing so was literally a matter of survival. Notwithstanding the economic crisis and the reluctance of conservative lawmakers to tap the Rainy Day Fund, he was able to get more than $400 million to help rebuild the coast. Amid the chaos of the last weekend of the session, a colleague allowed Eiland to attach an authorization for $150 million in construction bonds for the University of Texas Medical Branch to a related bill, and his work seemed to be done. No, it wasn’t. Off he went to negotiate a crucial bill to reestablish the state windstorm insurance fund so that money would be available to pay future claims.

Now Eiland could turn his attention to presiding over the House as speaker pro tem. This job, largely honorific, turned serious when the House became locked in a bitter partisan struggle over which bills should be debated in the closing days and in what order. Day after day, he made difficult parliamentary rulings in a soothing voice that managed to take the edge off the partisan enmity. Then a Republican freshman went to the microphone in a way that suggested he wanted to confront Eiland. “Is the chair aware,” he demanded to know, as the House held its breath, “that he is doing a great job?”

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