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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE WORST: Senator Tommy Williams

The Woodlands

“Be gentle,” he said, as he sat in his Capitol office a few days before sine die, telegraphing his tacit understanding that he would be on the Worst list for his contribution to the deadly voter ID debacle.

It was Williams, after all, who unleashed the malicious partisan germ that went viral in the last weeks of the session. Had he not changed the Senate’s two-thirds rule to permit debate on the contentious issue, House Democrats would not have locked down the Legislature and killed essential legislation in the session’s waning days.

The Senate’s claim to thoughtful deliberation rests with its 21-vote rule, which requires lawmakers to convince colleagues representing other philosophical, political, and geographical interests that a particular bill should be debated on the floor. It weeds out bad bills and allows the entire body to determine which issues deserve priority. Williams argued that the 21-vote rule had been skirted before, but past departures either involved pressing state business or ended badly. Voter ID is an issue ginned up by political consultants; modern-day instances of voter impersonation are rare.

In the final week of the session, grief consumed the Capitol for all the waste of work. And let us add: waste of talent. Williams possesses both natural leadership abilities and a bright mind. In 2007 we acknowledged this by naming him to the Best list. This year he squandered those attributes for partisan reasons—much to the state’s detriment.

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