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'Texas Monthly' Legislative Top 10s

Best and worst of the Lone Star State

By Amy Smith, Fri., June 22, 2007

The Legislature's bounty of bad apples provided easy pickings for Texas Monthly's biennial roundup of lousiest lawmakers. TM's long-anticipated (at least around the Capitol) Top 10 Best and Worst Legislators, featured in the magazine's July issue, bestows the prized Rookie of the Year title on freshman Democratic senator and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, while area Reps. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, each attained honorable-mention awards.

The year's worst legislators created an embarrassment of riches for political scribes and Top 10 overseers Paul Burka and Patricia Kilday Hart. Most of their "worst" choices were no-brainers, starting with the Big Three – Gov. Rick Perry, Speaker Tom Craddick, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – who stood out among the baddest of the bad. So tough was the Republican competition that only two Democrats appear on the worst list – liberal Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth and conservative Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville. The Monthly tsk-tsks Burnam for firing bill-killing shots at Republican Betty Brown over her voter-ID bill and for telling reporters beforehand of his intentions to exact revenge on her local bills. (Like nobody ever does that.) Lucio is cited as being reliably unreliable at the most critical times. Other "favorites" on the worst list include two Houstonians – right-wing know-it-all Dan Patrick in the Senate and right-wing airhead Debbie Riddle in the House – both for obvious reasons.

Turning to the silver linings, three candidates for House speaker are cited for their good work. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, is named among the Top 10 best lawmakers, while Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and Fred Hill, R-Richardson, take home honorable mentions. A special honorable-mention award goes to the Insurgency, the bipartisan cast of strange bedfellows led by Waco Democrat Jim Dunnam and Pasadena Republican Robert Talton, who tag-teamed on the long, dramatic attempt to overthrow Speaker Craddick.

The basic list is posted on TM's Burkablog; the full article will appear in the July issue of Texas Monthly.


Capitol Briefs

• A bill to create roadside memorials for the victims of drunk drivers has been sent to Gov. Perry for his signature. For years, informal signs and crosses have sprung up along Texas roadways for victims of highway accidents. Frequently, those accidents have resulted from drunk drivers. This formalized program would be administered by TxDOT, and paid for by those who want to place the memorial; each sign would carry the "Don't drink and drive" message. It would not extend to memorialize the death of DPS troopers, a fight that was fought when local residents wanted to place a memorial to trooper Randall Vetter, who was shot and killed in a traffic stop along I-35 in Kyle in 2000. – Kimberly Reeves

• Supporters of early childhood education are lobbying Gov. Perry hard to sign bills to provide additional modest funds for improved educator training and higher reimbursement rates for prekindergarten services. Killing the session's major prekindergarten bill was one of the few victories the conservative lobby on education could claim this session. Jason Sabo of Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition does hail the expansion of pre-K eligibility to include children in the foster-care system this session but says there's much work to be done next session to expand pre-K quality and access. – K.R.

• One of the earliest bills Austin Sen. Kirk Watson passed – and the governor signed – was a new grant program to support home-delivered meals to homebound elderly or disabled people. The grant program, which will be administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture, is anticipated to cost the state an additional $16.2 million per year and will benefit groups such as Meals on Wheels. There's a catch, though. Counties will have to pay a nominal match – based on the number of senior citizens in the county – in order to receive the new grant funds. – K.R.

Credit-card marketing on university campuses will be sharply curtailed under a bill Gov. Perry has signed. HB 85, co-authored by Austin Rep. Donna Howard, will limit on-campus credit-card marketing to particular locations and times approved by each campus governing board. It also requires credit counseling and financial-education materials be provided during new-student orientation. According to the bill analysis, 76% of all college undergrads started the 2004 school year with credit cards despite a lack of credit history and little income. – K.R.

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