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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE WORST: Representative Debbie Riddle


“Lead, follow, or get out of the way” goes the adage. To these directives, Riddle adds a fourth: Provide comic relief. “Where did this idea come from?” she famously asked about public education in 2003. “It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.” Equally inscrutable was her assertion this session, in opposition to a shield law for the media, that the bill would give journalists more rights than the pope. This drew giggles, but nothing as rib-tickling as her “who’s on first” routine. While engaged in debate with Democrat Rafael Anchía, of Dallas, over literacy, she called him Mark Strama, the name of a Democratic member from Austin. After Anchía cracked that he was really Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, she started calling him Menendez. As laughter rippled across the floor, a clueless Riddle rebuked her colleagues: “This is a serious bill and I have a serious question.”

If only she would restrict her activities to resolutions honoring constituents, she could bumble in obscurity. But she won’t accept her own limitations, so her incompetence ends up doing real harm. Through some inexplicable miscalculation, she was named chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice. The top priority of legislative budget writers has been to fund programs that allow nonviolent inmates to be released, thereby alleviating the need to build new prisons. But Riddle shifted money from these programs to items that weren’t requested, such as $20 million for new cars for the Department of Public Safety. Everything she did had to be undone by more-knowledgeable members. If she won’t get out of the way, she should at least get out.

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