Since the early 70s, Texas Monthly has compiled a list of The Best and The Worst Legislators. It’s obviously subjective. Billy Clyde usually agrees with about 70 percent of its picks.
The latest list was released today, apparently to great fanfare. If I understand correctly, TM had a breakfast taco party this morning for T.J. Shroat and Ross Ramsey and let the cat out of the bag. My facts may be slightly off.
Patti Kilday, the brilliant former DT-H reporter who now compiles the Best/Worst List for Texas Monthly, did her predictable excellent job with the list. Full-time bridge player and baseball game watcher Paul Burka, however, still insists on being involved – so there are some flaws. My main beef is the spot news feel of the list. Where is the historical perspective? Billy Clyde can’t provide a true historical perspective, but can offer up a list of The Five Best and Five Worst that I Know Of Legislators, to wit:
Byron Tunnell, Smith County. The country gentleman with the white tie birthed the modern Parks and Wildlife Department and became Speaker. Law partner Bob Bullock and Tunnell took an East Texas hokey-tonk as a fee in a legal matter (bad idea). Both agreed not to take cash out of the till or play aroundwith the help. On first night under “new management,” Tunnell cleaned out the register and Bullock screwed the waitress.
Robert E. “Bob” Johnson, Dallas County. Had to run at-large in Dallas County in the pre-single-member days. Came out strongly against taxes and integration. Despite a strong “state rights” (wink, nod) position and public declaration of Republicans as “northern liberal sissies,” won huge following of black and GOP officials across the state.
Bill Moore, Brazos County. Personified expression “It’s better to be feared than loved.” Fostered the state’s oil and gas economy by taking to the Senate floor and demanding better tax treatment for his oil wells. Understood the changing demographics of the state and advocated for better treatment of senior citizens – particularly those living in his nursing homes. Was probably too hard on Babe Schwartz, but it made good theater.
O.H. “Ike” Harris, Dallas County. Assumed his older brother’s nickname of “Ike” when running for SMU Student President during a period when SMU campus liked Ike. Parlayed that into 40-year political career in House and Senate, only briefly interrupted after a certain president got assassinated and Dallas had a quick pang of White Guilt. Once passed legalized gambling, interstate banking, and branch banking in one special session – while providing critical support for budget and tax fix. Just brilliant. When he wanted to be.
Wade Spillman, Hidalgo County. Forget the “WWJD” bumper sticker. Jesus was before my time. But using the “What Would Wade Spillman Do” approach will surely get you into Heaven. No one could break down complex matters of public policy into simple right/wrong terms like Mr. Spillman. Even if it were just lunch or a brief conversation in the hallways ... you always felt like you learned something and came away a better human after visiting with Wade Spillman. WWJD? Give us more Wade Spillmans.
Craig Washington, Harris County. The votes have been counted, the outcome assured. But wait! Craig Washington wishes to speak. He speaks so well that people on the floor actually change their votes because of his power of persuasion. Lots of people think that he wasted his enormous talent. That may be true. But when focused and determined and on a mission ... like watching Superman and MLK, Jr. on steroids.
Glenn Kothmann, Bexar County. Billy Clyde is pretty good at figuring out people. Yet Glenn Kothmann eluded him. What is he doing and why is he here? He refused to speak on the Senate floor during his 15 or 20 years there. Had a socially liberal, business conservative record but for some reason was most proud of his 100-percent voting record with the Farm Bureau – while representing downtown San Antonio. Billy Clyde personally saw him introduce himself to Bill Hobby at a reception – like his Lieutenant Governor and presiding officer was a complete stranger. His toupee and fake teeth didn’t make him a ladies man, as he found out when he hit on a well-known (and hot and young) lesbian one evening on the Senate floor. Weird.
Mike Martin, Smith County. BC would have totally forgot about this dude except he ran for some obscure Western Travis County city council seat a month or so ago. Besides being a horrible lawmaker, he based his re-election campaign on a sympathy factor by having his brother shoot him and blaming it on Satanic Cults. Then he hid out in his armoire, the cops found him, he fled to Australia ... you get the point. Strange.
Jan McKenna, Tarrant County. Let me sum it up this way: Kent Grusendorf beat her in a GOP primary because conservatives in Arlington were embarrassed that Rep. McKenna was such a right-winger. Regardless of how you feel about the abortion issue (Billy Clyde doesn’t care one way or the other), McKenna could find a fetus in every bill. Length of hunting seasons. School lunch. Private sector maintenance of highways. Tuition revenue bonds for a new science building at Stephen F. Austin University. ABORTION BILLS ALL!! The bitch was really crazy.
Ben Barnes, Comanche County. This is a tough one. The man is a worker, his bullshit is superb ... but let’s face it. He went from being a pimply faced door-to-door vacuum salesman to Speaker to Lieutenant Governor to almost Governor and then President while no one was really minding the store. And all before the age of 35. He’s the Paris Hilton of state government. Great at garnering attention and seeming important. But like whipped cream, of no nutrional value. Walking away from his enormous debts while John Connally took it like a man provides the greatest contrast between a statesman and opportunist. Would you do business with him?
El Paso (Special Award). You can’t really expect the rest of the state to treat you with the respect you think you deserve when you send us cross-carrying AIDS victims, hot check artists, imprisoned bribe takers, Tati Santiesban (he was one of the CLEANER ones), ineffectual iconoclastic loons, ineffectual housewives, ineffectual criminals, ineffectual drug dealers, ineffectual biker chicks ... The other 253 counties will start taking you seriously when you start taking yourself seriously. Seriously. Pat Haggerty and Joe Pickett are really good. And y’all want to beat them?
(Editors Note: Billy Clyde is in a secure undisclosed location that lacks cell service. Attempts to reach him shall be treated as crimes against the state.)