Most legislators who land on the Worst list do so through ineptitude or blunder. John Shields is different: He actively auditioned for the role. He performed as if he had researched the bad old days and come up with a surefire course of action that the greenest freshman would know better than to try. Sleaze and spite will get you on the Worst list every time.
The sleaze: Shields put forth the single worst idea of the Seventy-fifth Legislature when he proposed changing the ethics rules to allow legislators to accept money for fact-finding trips during a session—a loophole that disreputable lobbyists could easily exploit to practice legalized bribery. Forewarned not to embarrass himself, he insisted on offering his amendment anyway. The rebuttal by House heavyweight Steve Wolens was target practice: “There are several things that are absolute. One of them is that you can’t take money during a session.” Shields was voted down by a margin of 130–2, one of the worst whippings in memory. Then it got worse: The only member to side with Shields changed his vote.
The spite: As a ringleader of the dissident Republican faction known to all except themselves as the Shiites, he assailed apostate GOP colleagues who didn’t support his onslaught against the property tax–relief plan backed by Governor Bush. Shields had joined forces with liberal Democrats to win a preliminary vote against tax increases that would allow for bigger property-tax cuts, but he lost the final tally when some Democrats bolted. A few days later, during a routine session for passing uncontested legislation, he and a crony aired their discontent by asking hostile questions about a benign bill sponsored by a senior Republican who had sided with the governor.
During the property-tax debate, Shields paid another visit to the One Hundred Club, membership in which is earned by legislators whose proposals have had at least 100 votes (out of a possible 150) cast against them. A bizarre Shields amendment said that even if the tax-relief plan was approved by voters, it shouldn’t count unless the turnout was at least 25 percent. Welcome to the club. How about a convenient lifetime membership?