With his spectacles and bushy mustache, he looks like everybody’s favorite uncle, and appropriately, his niche in the Legislature is to take care of the kids: juvenile justice, safe schools, and adoption laws. In the age of family-values politics, Goodman brings a quiet rationality to issues that have been known to generate hyperbole and hysteria.
Last session he guided Governor Bush’s juvenile justice reform through the House, making sure that it was tough but not too tough. (He fended off attempts to treat all fourteen-year-old offenders as adults.) This year’s too-tough proposal was the stop-and-frisk bill, endorsed by Bush, that would have allowed law enforcement officers to search juveniles at will. Goodman killed it in committee, then had to fight it again on the floor as an amendment to his bill fine-tuning the 1995 juvenile justice reforms. He argued to his colleagues as he would argue to a judge, appealing to their intelligence rather than their emotions, stating the essence of his case with professionalism and authority: “[It] takes away reasonable suspicion, takes away probable cause. We think it goes too far. We think it is a violation of our constitution and the United States Constitution.” The House agreed. University of Texas law professor Robert Dawson, Goodman’s adviser on juvenile justice issues, was amazed: “It’s pretty remarkable in the Texas House to have a constitutional principle take precedent over fear.”
Over the past few sessions Goodman and Arlington senator Chris Harris have virtually rewritten the state family law code. This session Goodman concentrated on adoption; his bill made many concessions to proponents of open-adoption records, but in the end he had to fight a bid for total openness. “I’ve sat through I don’t know how many hours of hearings on this,” he said, “and this is the best-crafted bill I can come up with on these issues.” That was good enough for the House.
Though a loyal Republican, he never lets partisanship cloud his work. While some GOP lawmakers clamored to take child-support enforcement away from Attorney General Dan Morales, Goodman worked out a compromise that gives Morales two years to show improvement. He found testimony for a tort reform bill to be unconvincing and made it clear that a huge settlement the witness had cited had more to do with bad lawyering than with bad law. With his intelligence, fairness, and respect from his colleagues, Goodman ought to be more of a force, but he has been underutilized by the current Democratic leadership. If the Republicans take control of the House in 1998, Goodman will undoubtedly be part of the A team.