First, this board would like to note that this is our first official editorial post, although most members of the blog were consulted previously for decisions such as endorsements and person of the year. That being said, it has been a contentious process to select those members of the House and the Senate who excelled in their roles. While Texas Monthly, perhaps home to the most famous Best & Worse list, selects its recipients based almost always on how successful their legislative agenda was, this board has taken into account the equity of legislation involved. That means that, even if a legislator was extremely diligent and successful in pushing through a significant piece of legislation, but we disagreed with it, she or he would not be favorably reviewed. Accordingly, our rankings favor individuals of the Democratic Party more, considering the partisan makeup of this board.
Next, this board was faced with the challenge of how many legislators to commend/taunt. After some deliberation, we decided to note both the three best and the three worst in each House of the Texas Legislature, for a grand total of 12 members. In comparison, Texas Monthly typically recognizes 20. All this being said, let us recognize all those listed here tonight in the Legislature:
BEST MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE
1. Gene Wu (Democrat-Harris County)
This board found Representative Wu to be a stellar example of what a State Representative should be–in two distinct ways. First, Rep. Wu consistently argued for sensible positions and issues throughout what was, all too often, a nonsensical session. Most impressive, in this board’s eyes, was Rep. Wu’s orotund opposition to a bill designed to crack down against “ballot harvesting,” which would have criminalized simply assisting the elderly submit their votes. Rep. Wu brought desperately needed media attention to such a bill, causing its more punitive provisions to be mitigated in the Senate and Conference Committee. Wu also introduced many righteous bills this session, though no significant acts made it to Perry’s desk, which was quite unfortunate.
Rep. Wu has also been astoundingly active in social media and transparency. He has live-tweeted a ridiculous amount of the proceedings of the legislators, bringing much-needed light to the hoary institution. Three of the members of this board sojourned outside of the State of Texas for nearly all of the 83rd session, but thanks to individuals such as Rep. Wu, they were able to adequately follow the intricate procedures of the House.
2. Sylvester Turner (Democrat-Harris County)
Rep. Turner is no stranger to publicity: good, bad and the other. This session has proved to be no exception, but it almost entirely confined to the former category. The State Representative from Houston has proved to be one of the strongest Democrats within the entire lower House. Indeed, he proved to be the secret ace-in-the-hole for the party when it came to budget and water negotiations.
The 83rd session has been deemed the “kumbaya session,” by many, and for good reason. Even though there were some rough patches, the budget passed with little partisan bickering. This board would like to believe Rep. Turner was at least somewhat responsible for such harmony. Additionally, perhaps more importantly, it was a strong recalcitrance from Rep. Turner that defeated a bad water bill and ushered in its replacement by a good one. When HB11, which would have unnecessarily drained the State’s rainy day fund to underwrite water projects, seemed all but assured to pass, Rep. Turner was able to derail the bill on a point of order. Eventually, consensus came to the rescue and HB4, which funds projects through voter-approved bonds and a water infrastructure bank, was passed instead.
3. Sarah Davis (Republican-Harris County)
None of the members of this board voted for Rep. Davis last year (granted, not all of the members of this board live within her district); however, this board has been exceptionally pleased by Rep. Davis’ lurch to the centre throughout this recent session. After facing Democrat Ann Johnson in the 2012 election, Rep. Davis mellowed her tea party rhetoric. Today, she has become the token moderate Republican within the Texas House. She has even joined the ostensibly Pro-Choice “Women’s Health Caucus,” the only female member.
Back in March, Rep, Davis struck up what the Texas Tribune coined a “grand bargain” in preventing horrendously anti-abortion legislation or eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood. Further, this past April, Rep. Davis became a headline speaker at a pro-gay rights Republican group. She also was commended this session as the most gay friendly Republican in the lower house. ““It’s not the job of the government to socially engineer society,” Rep. Davis stated at the time, as she “pledged her full support” for gay rights. This board commends her in the decision to be the Rob Portman of the Texas Legislature.
WORST MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE
1. Van Taylor (Republican-Collin County)
A few days ago, Charles Kuffner’s Off the Kuff predicted that Texas Monthly would selected Rep. Taylor as possibly the worst member of the Texas House. The rationale is simply that Rep. Taylor is a bully. His style of legislating is reminiscent of Rambo, and is not fit for the decorum of our State Legislature. In fact, even The Dallas Morning News has reported that, when Rep. Taylor is finally called out for going too far, the reprimand is often met with applause in the chamber.
2. Debbie Riddle (Republican-Harris County)
This board has always had little patience for Rep. Riddle. She has demonstrated countless times that she is quite bigoted, once asking a Pakistani-American law student to repatriate himself to the Middle East, an outstandingly offensive thing to say.
That incident occurred before the commencement of the 83rd session, so it is not what is placing Rep. Riddle on this list today. Rather, it is how evident it is that she has not learned from this unfortunate incident in the slightest. The original controversy between Rep. Riddle and the law student occurred online, on Facebook. Similarly, it has seemed that she has not learned that internet publications are permanent and serious. Over the course of this session, Rep. Riddle regularly visits the issue of keeping low income housing projects outside of her constituency. The position, per se, is not racist nor is it even unreasonable. However, she has obsessed upon the issue to the point of it becoming troubling. Further, many of her constituents have explained somewhat racist rationale for opposing these housing projects, and such comments are rarely met with reprimand.
3. David Simpson (Republican-Gregg County)
Rep. Simpson first came to prominence in the first day of the session, after attempting to dethrone Joe Straus’ speakership by running as the “Christian candidate.” That attempted ultimately failed miserably, but this board was not quick to forgive him. Rep. Simpson is often part of the only two-dozen or so far-right Republicans who vote against legislation with even the slightest remnant of Government regulation.
Further, Rep. Simpson was at the forefront of the very briefly majority-supported attempted to destroy the Texas Lottery. Within his rationale, Rep. Simpson felt that the lottery was an unfair and predatory tax upon the poor and the otherwise meek. However, he has been adamantly opposed to payday lending reform–which actually is unfair and predatory towards the poor and otherwise meek. The hypocrisy is not lost upon this board, because, in reality, Rep. Simpson most likely just supports draining education funding further, something this State simply cannot do.
BEST MEMBERS OF THE SENATE
1. Wendy Davis (Democrat-Tarrant County)
Few legislators have a more inspirational story than Sen. Davis, and even fewer fight so vehemently for people coming from similarly adverse situations. Davis represents the best features this board looks for in a Senator. She is pragmatic, but maintains strong convictions on many key issues. More importantly, Sen. Davis treats every issue that comes before the Senate like it is critical and newsworthy.
All too often, the legislature will rubber-stamp bad legislation when they think that no one is watching. In many of these instances, Sen. Davis is one of only two or three members of the Senate to stand up for her convictions. This board was pleased when Sen. Davis against initial measures to drug test recipients of unemployment insurance. Additionally, she was one of only two senators to vote against an asinine bill that would have required government issued photo identification in order to vote. While this board disagreed with her contentious decision to vote against an initial budget bill because the legislation did, in her words, “too little for education,” we commend her for standing so firm on her conviction to offset education cuts. However, despite holding firm in many aspects, Sen. Davis has been able to be a strong Democratic voice in policy-making.
2. Kirk Watson (Democrat-Travis County)
Sen. Watson was able to establish himself this session as a force to be reckoned with in the Senate. Often times he would join Sen. Davis in opposing foolish legislation, and he would also work hard towards making bipartisan decisions based on consensus, specifically relating to major education reform bills this session. However, what this board was most pleased about from Sen. Watson was his ability to usher through the common-sense bills he introduced.
First, Sen. Watson’s bill SB 360 was passed unanimously within both Houses of the legislators and signed into law –for immediate effect– by Governor Perry. The bill outlawed the practice of euthanize animals using carbon monoxide, an unnecessarily cruel practice. Sen. Watson’s second bill, SB 1484, eliminated age caps of receiving insurance benefits for autism. Both of these bills represent common interest goals, but will have a broad impact upon the community for the better. However, perhaps more important for this board, Sen. Watson meticulously tracked and shared the progress of each of these pieces of legislation throughout social media. Such emphasis on transparency is highly commendable.
3. Dan Patrick (Republican-Harris County)
This board has been critical of many of the Republican Party’s plans to reform the education system, especially the use of vouchers. While these have been pet issues of Sen. Patrick during the 83rd session, his commitment to consensus-based, bipartisan resolutions in education legislation has surely reserved him a position on this list. Sen. Patrick, in an attempt to extend an olive branch to the Democratic Party, pulled both his attempt to voucherize the school attempt and even his attempt to abolish the State’s cap on charter schools. The result was that the dreaded “School Choice” bill did nothing drastic, simply raising the cap on charter schools incrementally. The resulting legislation was supported by all 12 Senate Democrats.
Additionally, Sen. Patrick was able to work with Senate Democrats extensively in mitigating some of the more extreme measures in the Graduation Reform bill. This board was pleased to see that Algebra II, an important component of basic mathematics, was retained as a graduation requirement for the vast majority of diplomas. By not thoroughly reducing the strenuousness of graduation requirements, Sen. Patrick’s HB5 became more about its other component: testing reform. This board was happy to see the amount of standardized tests required for public school students drastically decline, and it attributes much of that legislative success to the Senate Education Chairman, Sen. Patrick.
WORST MEMBERS OF THE SENATE
1. Donna Campbell (Republican-Comal County)
Last year, Sen. Campbell defeated the incumbent Senator, Jeff Wentworth, in a Republican primary runoff, as part of a Tea Party backed wave of anti-incumbency. As one of the very few freshmen in the Senate this term, Sen. Campbell has not lived up the decorum or expectations of this State’s upper chamber.
Sen. Campbell has been a particularly avid proponent of “Campus Carry,” also known as the “Guns on Campus” legislation, which would allow licensed CHL holders to bring their firearms onto college campuses. This board has been particularly critical of such legislation, and has therefore looked unfavorably upon Sen. Campbell for so vehemently supporting what we deem to be an unnecessarily dangerous exercise in giving deadly force to the non-responsible. Further, Sen. Campbell has proposed and fought for other foolish measures such as the aforementioned Marriage ID bill, as well as an act to unnecessarily reduce training time for Commercial Handgun Licenses. In a session where cooler heads often prevailed, this board is relieved Sen. Campbell’s was not one of them.
2. Joan Huffman (Republican-Harris County)
The 83rd session has been a good one for criminal justice, including the plight of the wrongfully convicted. It has been a good session for the issue, however, in lieu of Sen. Huffman’s darnedest efforts. In multiple occurrences this session, Sen. Huffman has attempted to stonewall legislation designed to prevent wrongful convictions. This board was appalled to see Sen. Huffman, a former prosecutor, badger relatives of the wrongfully convicted at a hearing in May. The Houston Chronicle decried her “hijacking” of the hearing, criticizing her for stating there was nothing that could change her mind in opposing the legislation.
This board finds it troubling that Sen. Huffman, an attorney, would be so naive and stolid as to allege that the creation of an Innocence Commission, in order to review the convictions of serious felonies in order to ensure no wrongful convictions had take place, is a “second-guessing” of the justice system. Perhaps Sen. Huffman has forgotten we live in a Common-Law nation that prides itself on countless checks and balances to prevent wrongful imprisonment. As Corey Session, brother of the wrongfully convicted Tim Cole, testified before Huffman after being badgered for explaining his brother’s situation, maybe it is time for Sen. Huffman “go find another job.”
3. John Whitmire (Democrat-Harris County)
Sen. Whitmire has graced the cover of Texas Monthly many times as one of the best legislators session after session. Indeed, many still find the Dean of the Senate to be a powerful force for good within this State. This board, however, finds that perhaps it is time for a change. This board remembers when Sen. Whitmire broke ranks with the other members of the “Texas Eleven” in 2003, and handed Republicans the quorum needed to proceed with a brutish redistricting plan. Since that time, we have been dubious of Sen. Whitmire’s word. Additionally, this board remembers when Sen. Whitmire threatened and harassed a bartender at a local Austin watering hole, attempting to improperly exact his power in a threatening manner. Since that time, we have been dubious of Sen. Whitmire’s integrity.
The 83rd session has simply reinforced the notion that Sen. Whitmire’s word is incredulous. As chairman of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, Sen. Whitmire held much power of the fate of the aforementioned “Guns-on-Campus” bill. After initially stating that the legislation would not stand a chance, Sen. Whitmire broke his word too many times to count. Despite numerous promises that the bill would not be given a hearing or a vote within his committee, this promise was not ultimately kept. The fate of the “Guns-on-Campus” bill was eventually its demise, but no thanks to Sen. Whitmire.
Further, Sen. Whitmire has declined to a point of senility in opposing and grandstanding against otherwise innocuous legislation for no good reason. The board remembers his ludicrous opposition to the SafeClear program under Mayor White’s tenure. The fact that Sen. Whitmire, an individual with absolutely no power pertaining to the City of Houston, feels entitled to make policy prescriptions therefor, is representative of a larger problem. Such a problem has continued in full force during the 83rd session. Citing bizarre and irrelevant reasons, Sen. Whitmire nearly killed off a bill to open up enormous economic opportunities to this State through the “Space X” program. Again, Sen. Whitmire felt entitled to attempt to kill off a bill passed unanimously by the House of Representatives. Such habits are not fit for a public servant. Accordingly, this board finds that perhaps 32 years is enough for Sen. Whitmire.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz of Boston, Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston and Andrew S. Romo of New Orleans.