June 14, 2007
The 2007 Best and Worst Legislators

Here's the link, for the usual Limited Time Only, and here are the lists:


Rafael Anchia, Democrat, Dallas
Sen. John Carona, Republican, Dallas
Byron Cook, Republican, Corsicana
Sen. Bob Deuell, Republican, Mesquite
Scott Hochberg, Democrat, Houston
Lois Kolkhorst, Republican, Brenham
Jerry Madden, Republican, Plano
Sen. Steve Ogden, Republican, Bryan
Sylvester Turner, Democrat, Houston
Sen. Tommy Williams, Republican, The Woodlands


Lon Burnam, Democrat, Fort Worth
Warren Chisum, Republican, Pampa
Speaker Tom Craddick, Republican, Midland
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Republican
Sen. Troy Fraser, Republican, Marble Falls
Charlie Howard, Republican, Sugar Land
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Democrat, Brownsville
Sen. Dan Patrick, Republican, Houston
Gov. Rick Perry, Republican
Debbie Riddle, Republican, Houston

Honorable Mention

Rob Eissler Republican, The Woodlands
Senator Kevin Eltife Republican, Tyler
Dan Gattis Republican, Georgetown
Fred Hill Republican, Richardson
Senator Juan Hinojosa Democrat, McAllen
"The Insurgency" Jim Dunnam, Robert Talton, et al.
John Smithee Republican, Amarillo
Burt Solomons Republican, Carrollton
Mark Strama Democrat, Austin
Senfronia Thompson Democrat, Houston
Senator John Whitmire Democrat, Houston

Dishonorable Mention

Kino Flores Democrat, Mission
Pat Haggerty Republican, El Paso
Linda Harper-Brown Republican, Irving
Sid Miller Republican, Stephenville
Mike O'Day Republican, Pearland
Chente Quintanilla Democrat, El Paso
Bill Zedler Republican, Arlington

Rookie of the Year

Senator Kirk Watson Democrat, Austin

The former Austin mayor (and once and future statewide candidate) instantly earned respect for his intellect and diplomacy--and for knowing enough to let his elders take credit for his accomplishments.


The concept of "furniture" originated in the early years of the Legislature to describe members who were no more consequential than their desks, chairs, inkwells, and spittoons--the equivalent of backbenchers in Parliament. Today the term is only mildly pejorative; the sin lies not in being furniture but in failing to recognize it. Here is the furniture for the eightieth session:

Alma Allen Democrat, Houston
Roberto Alonzo Democrat, Dallas
Wayne Christian Republican, Center
Senator Craig Estes Republican, Wichita Falls
Joe Farias Democrat, San Antonio
Jim Jackson Republican, Carrollton
Senator Mike Jackson Republican, League City
Nathan Macias Republican, Bulverde
Armando Martinez Democrat, Weslaco

The article is done as correspondence between authors Paul Burka and Patti Hart. I just want to highlight a couple of bits from it, for future reference:

[S]peaking of show business, the Senate has staged its share of theater too. Talk show host Dan Patrick brought his performance to town, both figuratively and literally. While Patrick will argue that we targeted him as a Worst before he ever darkened the Capitol's huge oak doors, our only pre-session commitment was to our historic criteria. It was his colleagues who shook their heads at the mention of his name, weary of his lectures about overspending and ignoring taxpayers. In the closing days of the session, he told them how his northwest Harris County district provided the money for their constituents to spend, as if poor people don't pay sales taxes too. Floor debate served as the set for scripted pieces on red-meat issues like illegal immigration, abortion, and appraisal caps. When his dreaded nemesis in the House, Fred Hill, announced his candidacy for Speaker, Patrick sent a mass e-mail referring to him as Fred the Snake. His fellow senators tried to school him, but nothing worked. "Don't showboat," they'd say, only to have him arrange for $1 million in cash as a prop for a press conference that was critical of the Senate's version of the budget, then claim to have discovered $3 billion in savings that their months of work had overlooked. Too bad he didn't mention his ideas to anyone before the budget was debated. It finally became obvious to all that Patrick was here for the wrong reason: not to be a serious student of state policy but to amass sound bites for a run for higher office in 2010.


There is no more unreliable senator than sixteen-year veteran Eddie Lucio. His nicknames say it all: Sucio ("Dirty") Lucio and El Resbaloso ("the Slippery One"). Want to get a laugh from a colleague? Claim you've got eleven signatures to block a bill and produce a list with Lucio's name on it. That's a good one; Lucio uses disappearing ink. When the city of Houston needed to block a bill undercutting its ability to manage air emissions in neighboring suburbs, Lucio promised to provide a crucial vote against the bill. He voted "present" when a "no" would have killed the bill, then voted "no" when it no longer mattered. He pulled a similar stunt when the Finance Committee was looking for funds to pay for a Medicaid lawsuit settlement. Lucio voted for an amendment designating that the money come at the expense of health and human services for the poor. Later, he changed his vote, but it was too late. Here's how he explained himself to the Web-based publication Rio Grande Guardian: "I am pleased I had the opportunity to address the issue one more time, even though we were on the losing side. It sent a message." It sure did.


Let's close on an upbeat note with the two remaining Bests. If the Legislature were a stock market, Rafael Anchia would be Google. He is the future--the son of immigrants (from Spain and Mexico), a lawyer with a blue-chip firm, the League of United Latin American Citizens' onetime national Man of the Year, and the Democratic Rookie of the Year in our 2005 Best and Worst Legislators story. In only his second term, Anchia emerged as a top floor debater in the fight over the voter ID bill. After hearing Republicans argue that the bill was designed to prevent voter fraud, Anchia responded, "That's like burning down the forest in case Bigfoot exists." When another voting bill was considered in committee, this one requiring that a person seeking to register to vote be able to prove that he is an American citizen, Anchia confronted state GOP chair Tina Benkiser, who was testifying for the bill. "Can you prove today that you're a citizen?" Anchia asked--the point being that most people (including, it turned out, Benkiser) don't typically carry around their passport or birth certificate. When his ambitious legislative program of environmental bills--mostly improving energy efficiency--stalled, he looked for donkeys on which to pin the tail, and he found Republicans willing to let him attach his proposals to theirs. Recommendation: Buy.

Scott Hochberg didn't figure to be on the Best list. This was not a session in which public education, his area of expertise, was in play. But then a conversation took place in which a Republican lawmaker described him this way: "No legislator is indispensable, but Scott Hochberg is the closest thing to it." Session after session, he knows more about school finance than anyone, and he's willing to share his knowledge with friend or foe. Members on both sides of the aisle trust him. When Chisum's bill requiring high schools to offer Bible electives was sent to the Public Education Committee, it was so riddled with problems Hochberg could have killed it. Instead, he fixed it. When the bill reached the House floor, Chisum tried to substitute his original flawed version--and the House sided with Hochberg. In previous sessions, the former chairman of the Public Education Committee, Kent Grusendorf, did everything he could to keep Hoch-berg on the outside, only to lose floor battle after floor battle to him; this time, new chairman Rob Eissler was his biggest fan. On the first day the committee met, Eissler placed four Hochberg bills on the agenda--an unmistakable signal that his banishment was over. He passed one major bill this session, polishing up the way the state adopts textbooks (which saved school districts $1 billion), but next session, when school finance formulas will be on the front burner, Mr. Indispensable will be front and center.

Lots of good stuff in there. Enjoy!

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 14, 2007 to That's our Lege

Kuff, I was interested to see that my House Rep was given this assessment on the Burka Blog under his caption for Dishonorable Mention: Mike O'Day engaged in ungentlemanly personal conduct.

Does anyone know what he did this session to garner such repute?

Posted by: Bill on June 15, 2007 5:32 PM

Since Whitmire was listed as an honorable mention:


A former bartender has sued an Austin bar, saying she was fired for refusing to serve a Texas state senator because she thought he was drunk.

Rebekah L. Lear said she lost her job at the Cloak Room at 1300 Colorado St. in March for refusing to serve a second scotch to Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, according to the lawsuit. He also threatened to have her fired, the lawsuit says.

Her manager later told her that "we never refuse the senators," according to a conversation that was recorded, the lawsuit says.


The article goes on to mention that Whitmire allegedly threatened to use his power to get the Alcoholic Beverage Commission to fire her for NOT serving him (can they do that?), and that any attempt to call the police would be futile because he could call them and make them go away.

If there's any truth to this, this is not the type of "I'm above the law" behavior that should earn kudos.

Posted by: Tim on June 21, 2007 8:11 AM