Best and Worst Legislators

2011: The Best and Worst Legislators

Jan 21, 2013 By Paul Burka and Nate Blakeslee

For the Eighty-second Legislature (our twentieth at the Capitol), everything old was new again: the state faced a budget deficit; the governor harbored presidential ambitions; the members of the Best list were hard to find; and the names on the Worst list picked themselves.

The Best & Worst Legislators explained

Jun 16, 2011 By Paul Burka

The 20th edition of the “Best & Worst Legislators” story is complete. Yesterday we posted, on Twitter and on this blog, the names of the ten Best, the ten Worst, the Bull of the Brazos, and the Rookie of the Year. Today the write-ups for all of these 22 members are available online. The full story, including honorable and dishonorable mentions, furniture, and the very special features that mark the 20th edition of the story will be available in the magazine, which will begin reaching subscribers this weekend, and on our website next week. I have been involved in nineteen of the twenty previous articles, and I cannot recall a more difficult year when it came to selecting the members on both lists. This was a session without heroes. All the usual jokes about naming 5 Bests and 15 Worsts were on point, for a change. The budget dominated everything, with the result that there were few major bills. I count three: Truitt’s effort to regulate payday loans; Ritter’s attempt to get funding for the state water plan (one of several occasions on which Perry could have exercised leadership for the state’s future but did not); and Keffer’s bill regulating hydraulic fracturing in shale formations. The rest was noise. Particularly cacophonous was the governor’s “emergency” agenda, which consisted of nothing but red meat for Republicans. Republicans got to vote on abortion, immigration, voter fraud, tort reform, and, shades of the fifties, state’s rights. Democrats got to vote no a lot. Even the major Sunset bills didn’t seem to generate any interest. You could look out across the House floor during any debate and see few members engaged. The House Republican caucus was a curious organism. Its members preferred to vote as a block, as if they lived in fear that their age-old enemies, the Democrats, might perhaps be resuscitated to offer a scintilla of opposition. The group-think voting was reminiscent of the refrain sung by the “Monarch of the Sea” in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore: “I grew so rich that I was sent/by a pocket borough into Parliament/I always voted at my party’s call/and never thought of thinking for myself at all.” The anemic Democratic caucus, meanwhile, mustered up occasional resistance, mostly with parliamentary maneuvers, but the D’s were so outnumbered, and so demoralized by their election rout, that they never seemed to have a leader or a plan. Not that it would have made any difference.

Best & Worst Legislators: Who made the list?

Jun 15, 2011 By Paul Burka

Today TEXAS MONTHLY tweeted this year’s list of best and worst legislators. Here it is all in one place. The Best Dan Branch, R-Dallas. Senator Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. Senator Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio. Senator John Whitmire,…

The Tribune Insiders’ Best and Worst list

Jun 14, 2011 By Paul Burka

The main comment I would make about the Texas Tribune‘s Insiders’ list is that it doesn’t have any criteria. And I realize that’s not its purpose. This is really more like a vote for eighth grade president. The only criteria is who do we like and who don’t…

The Best and the Worst

Jun 2, 2011 By Paul Burka

Nominations are now open. The rules: no vulgarity, no sexual innuendo, no excessive demeaning of members of the Legislature Freshmen ARE eligible I will not publish nominations that violate the guidelines. If possible, be specific about the reasons for your choice. * * * * *…

2009: The Best and Worst Legislators

Jun 30, 2009 By Paul Burka and Patricia Hart

It was a new era at the Capitol, with a new Speaker and a new mood of peace, love, and bipartisanship in the war-torn House. But the eighty-first legislative session turned out to be a lot like the eighty that came before it—some heroes, some villains, and enough hot air to last until 2011.

Debbie Riddle responds

Jun 8, 2009 By Paul Burka

The following is a release from Representative Debbie Riddle, concerning her appearance on the Ten Worst list. I will reserve my remarks until the end. Some responses have been updated with clarifying information. Dear Mr. Burka, Being named one of your Ten Worst Legislators has become a perennial cornerstone of my reelection campaign, but I prefer to receive this honor on my own merits and not as a result of shabby research and irresponsible reporting on the part of you and your staff. I would appreciate it if you would give me a chance to correct several errors you made in your story. To begin, I think it is well documented that the now infamous “Pit of Hell” monologue I delivered to the El Paso Times in 2003 was never a comment on the concept of free public education for citizens and legal residents, although the insistent prejudice of columnists like yourself who parrot rumors and innuendo rather than unbiased fact has certainly established it as such. Rather, that quote was a reaction to testimony from the Texas Department of Health regarding the cost of health care along the border as the result of illegal immigration. The comment was clearly applied only to those who were here illegally. That same session, in order to combat soaring costs to his local school districts, an El Paso representative filed legislation to deal with the fact that Mexican citizens were sending their children across the border every day to attend public schools in Texas. I do not recall your magazine placing him on the worst list then or even six years later. I also do not recall your magazine ever running an additional quote from me that was part of the same story in the Times: "In a perfect world, I think it would be wonderful to open our doors to any and all, young and old, for health care. But this isn't a perfect world. We have got to decide if we are going to just open our borders for any and all that come through for health care, education, and services.” Proper context is always difficult to achieve more than a half-decade after the fact. In the future, you might consider evaluating legislators based on things they said and did in their most recent session rather than relying on a spotty long-term memory. On second thought, given the fact that you were unable to accurately report on the events that took place this session, perhaps your long-term memory is not the issue. One of the reasons you rate me as among the ten worst legislators in the state is because you claim I shifted money from incarceration diversion programs to programs that “weren’t requested, such as $20 million for new cars for the Department of Public Safety.” If you disagree with the funding decision to give DPS the tools they need to do their job, that is a legitimate political viewpoint. However, there are two major errors in your claim. First, the funds for the cars were not shifted away from any program. The money my subcommittee spent on this item was a one-time expense from freed-up general revenue as a result of the federal stimulus money. It was one of the last things we funded, and even then only after we fully funded the diversion programs (the same ones you claim I shortchanged) at the levels they were appropriated last session. However, the more glaring error on your part is that those black-and-whites actually were requested by the DPS. In fact, it was one of their top exceptional items, and they backed this up in public testimony on more than one occasion. That leaves just two issues outstanding, one of which was my criticism of the journalist shield law. I cannot imagine why you, a member of the media, would be in favor of a measure that gives you a privilege that exceeds the privilege for attorneys, doctors, clergy, and spouses. All kidding aside, I expect the “giggling” of my colleagues regarding the shield law and the Pope was due to the absurdity of the fact that we would afford journalists more protection than we would his Holiness. Giggles or no, it is now a law in Texas. Finally, I am once again one of the Ten Worst Legislators in Texas because my vision is no longer sharp enough to differentiate between two colleagues who are consistently mistaken for one another from more than 100 feet away. I take it from this pettiness that you have no physical attributes yourself anyone has ever taken advantage of. I will make a mental note to myself in the future that eyesight is now synonymous with legislative ability. You and your colleagues should be congratulated for your magazine’s success and what it has accomplished as an entertainment periodical. If you wish to claim that you are true journalists, however, I suggest you consider holding yourself to the same standards of excellence to which you claim you hold the legislature. Partisanship and mean-spiritedness are two criterions you have always claimed to weigh against lawmakers. You might add “hypocrisy” to the list as well, if the irony is not too much to overcome. Sincerely, [My comments appear below]

Ten Best? We’d settle for five

May 27, 2009 By Paul Burka

The floor is now open for nominations for the Ten Best and Ten Worst lists. Readers should try to make a case for their nominees. Information about unethical conduct is always welcome, but please refrain from gratuitious personal comments about members.

The Lowly Senate

May 12, 2009 By Paul Burka

As I go about interviewing members of the Capitol community for the Best and Worst Legislators story, I have been surprised by the low regard for the Senate. I know no one is going to feel sorry for lobbyists, but … a recurring theme among this cursed crowd is that…

2007: The Best and Worst Legislators

Jun 30, 2007 By Paul Burka and Patricia Hart

The eightieth session began with a Speaker’s race, ended with a Speaker’s race, and was consumed in between by the usual mix of nuanced issues and nasty politics. Along the way, a handful of lawmakers put the common good ahead of all else. And a handful of lawmakers didn’t.

2005: The Best and Worst Legislators

Jun 30, 2005 By Paul Burka and Patricia Hart

A few lawmakers in both parties distinguished themselves during one of the worst sessions anyone can remember. As for the rest? Well, in the words of Jon Stewart, that famous observer of Texas politics: not so much.

2003: The Best and the Worst Legislators

Jun 30, 2003 By Texas Monthly

It was a session like no other: different rules, new power players, a surprise trip to Oklahoma, and the small matter of a $9.9 billion budget shortfall. All of which made it tricky to separate the heroes from the zeroes. But we did.

2001: The Best and the Worst Legislators

Jun 30, 2001 By Paul Burka and Patricia Hart

Rodney Ellis was excellent. Gary Elkins was— well, significantly less so. Bill Ratliff was a model of dignified leadership. Domingo Garcia was a one-man leper colony. Our biennial roundup of the Legislature's leading lights and dim bulbs.