We talked about the people on Texas Monthly's 2013 list of worst lawmakers. Now, now let’s hear about the best. All picked using Texas Monthly Senior Executive Editor Paul Burka’s guiding principle.
“It’s a lot about how you play on the playground with the other children," Burka said.
I’m not sure how reassuring it is to know that what makes a best lawmaker is someone who doesn’t run with scissors. But if you want government to work, you need people who work well with others. That’s a trait our first ‘best’ lawmaker has used over the years according to Texas Monthly Associate Editor Sonia Smith.
“[Senator] Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), the adult in the room. You throw him at a problem and he fixes it,” Smith said.
It’s the sixth time Duncan has made the best list.
Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) showed similar traits in a session where she passed multiple bills to help military families and lead thoughtful discussions on public education.
Speaking of K through 12, work to restore billions cut from the system in 2011 was a key to the next three making the list. First up, Killeen Republican Representative Jimmy Don Aycock. Burka says Aycock thoughtfully and successfully guided big education bills through the Texas House in a session that began with multiple problems.
“We had a school finance lawsuit going on. Tremendous angst over too many tests. On the other side you had the business community fighting for more accountability. So it was an extremely difficult job," Burka said.
Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) started the session as an education gadfly, but keeping the issue in the spotlight helped push senators to restore about $4 billion of the 2011 cuts.
Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) played a similar role in the Texas House. Although by session’s end, Texas Monthly Senior Executive Editor Brian Sweany said this one-time thorn in the side of the Republican leadership was an ally on budget negotiations.
“I think he wanted to be on the inside. I think a lot of the acting out we had seen in previous sessions had an ideological component for sure, but I think it was also him wanting to be a player. And I think this session he became one," Sweany said.
It’s great when the kids do play well together, but every playground still needs a monitor. That’s the role Representative Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) played in the House. Sweany said Geren was the glue that held the House together. And made sure those who didn’t follow the rules got put in time-out.
This session saw increased funding for education, water infrastructure and other critical state programs. Which is a big reason why the House and Senate budget writers both ended up on the best list. Burka and Sweany said Representative Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) had lawmakers from both parties rallying around his efforts.
For Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), Senior Editor Erica Grieder again points to a smooth budget process.
“Lots of testimony, lots of back and forth, lots of discussion. Ended up with a very good budget I think that funds a lot of important things for the state. So he just did kind of a superlative job in that role," Grieder said.
The last two on the list made it for thinking big and succeeding. Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinajosa (D-McAllen) helped get a medical school and more university funding to the Rio Grande Valley. Sonia Smith said the importance of a new school to that part of the state can’t be overlooked.
“It can go even further towards creating a real viable middle class in this region," Smith said.
Last but not least: House Speaker Joe Straus. He started the session saying he wanted to increase funds for water, public education and transportation. The San Antonio Republican got two out of three, with transportation a possibility in the current special session.
"I was over at his chief of staff’s office when they adjourned Sine Die and Straus came in and sat down and his remarks were, what he said was, ‘we did what we said we were going to do," Burka said.
So there you go, Texas Monthly’s 10 best lawmakers from 2013. You can read our review of the 10 worst online at KUTNews.org.