At the end of every legislative session, Texas Monthly releases lists of the best and worst lawmakers from the 140 days under the dome. It’s a tradition that’s both praised and scorned by lawmakers, often based on which list they find themselves on.
So how does the magazine put the list together? Well to find out, you start with Senior Executive Editor Paul Burka.
This is the 21st Best and Worst list. And he's been there for all of them. Burka said putting the list together isn’t easy but the philosophy behind how you end up on it is simple.
“It’s a lot about how you play on the playground with the other children,” Burka said.
He said two basic aspects are considered when picking lawmakers. First: What did they do? What major bills did they shepherd through the process? Second: "How did they behave? How did they treat their colleagues? Behavior is a huge element of this story, and always has been, because personality is such a large part of parliamentary politics," Burka said.
Senior Executive Editor Brian Sweany said the staff also takes a look at what kind of politics are being pushed.
“We’re not coming at this in a partisan way. We’re not coming at this in a way that we have any preconceived notions. We have always laid out the notion here that, these are the legislators who are doing what we think Texas should be doing," Sweany said.
That includes adequately and equitably funding public schools, investing in the state’s transportation system and making sure the state’s water supply doesn’t run dry. Sweany said it’s about picking people who are working hard to solve those problems and aren’t demagoging the issues.
“Are we defining the way that we do good for Texas? Well obviously we are. It’s probably a little bit different than somebody like what Michael Quinn Sullivan might say is good for Texas," Sweany said.
Sullivan heads up Empower Texans, a conservative advocacy group that pushes for limited government and spending. None of the lawmakers that agree with him ideologically made the best list. But a couple of them, including Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano), did end up on the worst. Burka said Taylor’s selection was one of the least contested picks among the Texas Monthly staff. Although there were less unanimous choices as well.
"There were sometimes intense discussions between us on issues like that. You know, does this person deserve to be on this list or not," Burka said.
For Burka, the most contentious discussion was whether or not to place freshman Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) on the worst list. On past lists, Freshman have been given some leeway for being new to the process. Burka didn’t think Campbell should have gotten that break, even though he said she didn’t pass any major legislation.
"Maybe that’s o.k. Maybe if you don’t do anything, you can’t get on the worst list. I just thought, if she’s not a worst…I don’t know," Burka said.
Agenda Texas will break down the "Worst" Thursday afternoon. With a rundown of the "Best" list Friday.