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The Best and Worst Legislators of 2005

THE BEST: Senator Steve Ogden

Bryan

SUBMERGED FOR months at a time, working in cramped quarters with diverse personalities, tending a finicky machine that could blow sky-high: That was Ogden’s job as chief engineer of a nuclear submarine after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy—and also this session as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. From his basement office, he commanded the committee in crafting the session’s greatest success: a $140 billion state budget that restored drastic cuts in education and social services from two years ago and—surprise, surprise—sent buckets of money to Texas A&M.

Ogden’s military bearing and training are both his greatest strength and greatest vulnerability. Unflappable in a storm (as when Republican colleagues had “heartburn”—a voguish term for political fear—over a school finance plan that had been thrust upon them by Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst), he did what he had to do to protect the state’s budget, even if it meant falling on his sword by supporting a motion to cut off debate, a no-no in the Senate. Ogden took the heat—and lots of it—although the episode could have been avoided had the Senate begun work on the bill earlier, to allow vetting of members’ proposed changes.

But there appear to be no lasting repercussions. His fellow senators regard him as a leader, even if he is a work in progress. He still has flashes of impatience, cutting off testimony at committee hearings with “Okay. Just tell us what you need.” He’s a very good senator who rises above ideology on issues other than abortion, but the Senate needs him to be a great senator in the mold of a recent finance chairman, Bill Ratliff. That kind of leadership can’t be taught, even at Annapolis.

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