THINK OF THE SEVENTY-EIGHTH TEXAS Legislature as an adolescent phenomenon. Republicans, giddy about their new driving privileges, leaped behind the wheel and careened down the road, hitting a few curbs and cats along the way. Democrats, their car keys confiscated, muttered a lot about living under a dictatorship.
In some ways, two sessions happened simultaneously. Let’s just say that the Texas House is from Mars and the Senate is from Venus. Temperatures soared so high in the west side of the Capitol that Democrats fied to Oklahoma, whereas the Senate’s equanimity was preserved by its self-imposed rules requiring bipartisanship.
Democrats were cheered by constant sniping among the all-Republican leadership—Governor Rick Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, and the first GOP Speaker in 130 years, Tom Craddick—over the state budget. While Perry defined the session’s mission (balancing the budget, enacting tort and homeowners’ insurance reform), what he chose not to work on—namely, school-finance and tax reform—spoke volumes about his administration’s priorities (repaying contributors, enhancing party power, ducking tough decisions).
The criteria for our lists of Best and Worst legislators have remained unchanged for thirty years. The Best legislators work hard, understand the process, check their egos at the door (usually), and tell the truth. The Worst legislators don’t do any of the preceding. This session, especially, the pickings were slim, but somehow we found 10 good folks. As for the remaining 171? Well, we hope it’s just a phase.