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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE BEST: Senator Robert Duncan


He’s a walking, breathing argument against term limits. A member of the Legislature since 1996, Duncan brings his accumulated knowledge and wisdom to bear on a colossal agenda of real consequence. This session, there was hardly an issue—the budget, eminent domain, health care reform, college tuition—that wasn’t improved by his intellectual rigor and deft touch as a mediator.

Some lawmakers become hardened after too many years in office; Duncan has become more independent. He broke rank with advocates of tort reform, his old allies, because he believed recent court decisions misinterpreted laws involving the injured and the ill. And he should know: He wrote them. Drawing from a deep well of respect, he persuaded his Senate colleagues to make concessions for workers afflicted with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related illness. The normally invincible tort reform lobby beat a hasty retreat to the House to kill the bill there.

A perennial lament in the Legislature is the dearth of nationally recognized research universities in Texas. Duncan crafted an ingenious road map for emerging schools to win additional funding by meeting elevated scholarly criteria. While critics griped that the criteria were skewed in favor of his alma mater and hometown university, Texas Tech, he firmly opposed efforts to water down the bill.

Duncan’s low boiling point served him—and the Senate—well when he presided over the contentious hearing on the voter ID bill, gently admonishing lawmakers when they began speaking past one another. Having spent so many years in the Senate, he has a stake in preserving the dignity of the institution.

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