Naked City

Bill Ratliff Calls It Quits

Ending months of speculation and quoting Ecclesiastes with a bittersweet air, District 1 state Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, announced his resignation last week. "There is a time to come in and time to go out. I've decided it's my time for going out." Ratliff said he will resign effective Jan. 10, 15 years to the day after his first day in office and three years before his current term expires. "I began to feel the burnout," Ratliff said, "and some of you may have seen it in me before I even recognized it in myself."

Ratliff's decision was not unexpected; the GOP moderate and former lieutenant governor had suggested several times he might step down in the wake of the bitter legislative controversy over congressional redistricting. The East Texan was the sole Senate Republican to dissent from his party's determination to redraw Texas congressional lines, and he had nearly derailed the effort personally, when he joined in signing a letter with 10 Democrats vowing refusal, under the Senate's two-thirds rule, to bring the matter to the Senate floor.

Ratliff said that the goal of adding Republicans to the U.S. Congress was not worth sacrificing Senate traditions of bipartisanship and collegiality and that he had decided to "fall on his sword" to prevent it. Ratliff's defiance triggered Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's decision to abandon the two-thirds rule, precipitating the flight of 11 Democrats to Albuquerque to break quorum, a holdout ending only when Houston Democrat John Whitmire decided to give up the fight.

Following the 2000 election of President Bush, and then Lt. Gov. Rick Perry's promotion to the governorship, the Senate elected Ratliff to take Perry's place. He briefly entertained and then declined a statewide run against Dewhurst in 2002.

Ratliff insisted that the redistricting battle had not motivated his resignation, that he refused to go out on a "negative" note, and that he had simply decided he had "done everything a member of this body might wish to do." "It's hard to keep the fire in your belly forever," he said. His Senate floor farewell was delivered to several dozen reporters and a couple of hundred official well-wishers. Asked about the large crowd, he said, "It's very gratifying, but then people also gather at car wrecks."

Of his legislative service, he said he was proudest of his work on public school finance -- he authored the much-misunderstood 1993 "Robin Hood" law that brought a degree of financial equity to the state's school districts. Asked for regrets, he said he wished he had been able to do more for Texas schoolteachers: "We reward them so little for the enormous burdens we place on them."

Ratliff's Senate seat will be filled in a special election, yet to be scheduled by Gov. Perry. Former Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife, a Republican, announced for the seat Monday, and state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, and former state Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, are being mentioned as potential candidates.

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