You may have heard, this week Texas Monthly magazine released its list of best and worst lawmakers for the 2013 Legislative session. So I sat down with their writers to go over who made which list and why.
As we go over the good and bad, just keep in mind what Texas Monthly Senior Executive Editor Paul Burka said is the guiding principle behind all the picks.
“It’s a lot about how you play on the playground with the other children," Burka said.
Those who don’t play well, who push people off swings or keep throwing the dodge ball into the street, end up on the worst list.
We start with two Democrats accused of breaking the law. Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso) was arrested on a DWI charge in Austin. Then there’s Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) who was charged with barratry, which is basically when a lawyer harasses people to sign on to lawsuits. Senior Executive Editor Bryan Sweany said.
“If we can’t trust our lawmakers and if we have lawmakers who do things that are very visible and bring a level of dishonor to the House, it darkens the entire process," Sweany said. "And I think it makes it very easy then for people out there to think if I can’t trust a couple of them I can’t trust any of them.”
Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) started the session with his eye on higher office. But he ends it on the Texas Monthly’s worst list for his habit of walking off the House floor right before high profile votes. He also mishandled a major tax bill, which added to his “not ready for primetime” label.
For some lawmakers, it was the way they used their office that landed them on the worst list. Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) took more than a hundred thousand dollars from insurance companies. He then sponsored a bill that would have eliminated a state office that advocates for consumers on insurance issues.
Then there was Senator John Carona (R-Dallas). Texas Monthly Senior Editor Erica Grieder said this session, he just wasn’t very effective.
“There was just a series of events where he kind of just came in and almost derailed things that were otherwise going to proceed quite calmly without him. He was the chair of the Senate Business and Commerce committee and just ran it kind of clumsily and in a way that kind of made things more awkward on several issues," Grieder said.
Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) also made the Worst list for hurting more than helping. Texas Monthly called his debating style sometimes irritating and often condescending, saying it drove some lawmakers to vote against things he supported, even if they agreed with the legislation.
Republican Comptroller Susan Combs also made the list. She’s not actually in the legislature, but her revenue forecasts have a big effect on lawmakers. And her 2011 forecast was off to the tune of $8 billion.
Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) made the worst list for, among other reasons, the way he ran his Education Committee. Texas Monthly Associate editor Sonia Smith said he turned the committee into his own ideological mouthpiece, rudely interrupting people testifying against his interests.
Smith said a poor committee hearing also doomed Houston Republican Joan Huffman to the Worst list. This one on a bill that would have created a commission to study false convictions. It was a bill Huffman opposed.
“She started out this hearing saying, ‘there’s nothing you can do for me to fix this bill.’ And you have probably around 10 exonerees sitting in the room, who have given up 100 years of their lives collectively. And to be so bald about the fact that you’re not able to listen to debate was really poor form on her part," Smith said.
Which brings us finally Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano). The Texas Monthly staff said Taylor was the easiest pick to make because based on conversations and actions in the House, it was obvious he had lost the respect of many lawmakers.
“Van is extremely intelligent and will tell you, if given the slightest opportunity, that he went to Harvard. But again, he doesn’t know how to play on the playground." Burka said.
But hey, Taylor now knows what to do to get on stay off next session’s worst list…don’t push Burka off the swings.
We’re saving the best for last this week. Tomorrow we’ll run down Texas Monthly’s picks for the session’s Best lawmakers.