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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE WORST: Representative Jim Dunnam

Waco

The Democratic leader was the dominant figure of the session from start to finish. Hard to admire but even harder to ignore, he is the rare member who can scale the heights one moment and crash to earth the next. There was never any question that he would make the list—but which one?

The case for Dunnam as a Best: He united the Democratic caucus in a way no one else could to provide the votes that ended Craddick’s speakership; he swallowed his disappointment when he and his party did not get the influential positions they hoped the new Speaker would deliver and turned his lemon of a consolation prize—the chairmanship of the temporary committee to oversee how federal stimulus funds might be used—into lemonade; and he forged a relationship with Republican caucus leader Larry Taylor, of Friendswood, that kept the House mostly free of partisan rancor.

But the case for him as a Worst is stronger. Years of fighting Craddick have taken their toll on Dunnam, and at times the old warrior seemed to be suffering from parliamentary post-traumatic stress disorder—never more so than when he killed a bill that was to be named in honor of an Austin policewoman who had died in the line of duty because the bill’s sponsor was holding up one of Dunnam’s bills. (And the slain officer’s family was in the gallery!) The main reason Dunnam is on the Worst list, though, is that he was the Democratic counterpart of Senator Tommy Williams: He destroyed the session over voter ID. Under his leadership, the Democrats adopted delaying tactics that killed hundreds of bills, wiping out the good work they had done all session and opening deep divisions in their caucus. It wasn’t worth it.

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