Making a list of the best and worst lawmakers after each Texas legislative session isn't quite as old as the Legislature itself, but it's still a time-honored tradition. Texas Monthly has put out such a list since 1973, and each one is an occasion awaited with bated breath by political observers, legislative aides and of course, the lawmakers themselves.
Texas Monthly Politics Editor R.G. Ratcliffe is one of the list's principal architects. He says both Democrats and Republicans can be found among the best and worst legislators from this past session.
Lawmakers on the list of best legislators were effective at passing bills and able to sway their colleagues toward legislation they supported.
"We look for people who get things done," Ratcliffe says.
Among the best:
– Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) made speeches that changed minds in the House, as it deliberated on important bill amendments.
– Sarah Davis (R-Houston) "was everywhere this session," Ratcliffe says. Davis ran an investigation of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and served on the Appropriations Committee.
– Joe Moody (D-El Paso) contributed in quiet ways, says Ratcliffe. He played a key role in calming tensions among lawmakers on the last day of the session, when supporters and opponents of SB 4, the so-called "sanctuary cities" bill, clashed on the House floor.
– Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) led the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of lawmakers who often clashed with their fellow Republicans. Ratcliffe says Schaefer, who authored the controversial "show me your papers" provision of SB 4, was effective in advocating for what his East Texas constituents wanted. "He sort of became the whip for the Republicans in the House," Ratcliffe says.
Many who earned spots on the worst list brought unwanted notoriety to themselves, and to Texas, Ratcliffe says.
"[We include] people who do things that embarrass the state nationally," he says.
– Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) was notable for being absent from the House for much of the session. After facing scrutiny from Travis County prosecutors for allegedly having taxpayer-funded staff do personal work for her, Dukes told constituents that she would resign her seat and not seek re-election in 2016. She did not live up to those promises.
– Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) is a rare freshman addition to the list. Ratcliffe says Texas Monthly typically does not consider first-term legislators for the list, but he says Cain's colleagues mentioned him frequently. "He [was] a demonstration of why freshmen shouldn't take the microphone," Ratcliffe says. Cain often spoke on issues he wasn't familiar with and embarrassed himself.
– Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) was a late arrival to the list, due to his actions during the end-of-session SB 4 debate. Rinaldi responded to protesters in the House gallery by calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to report people he suspected of being in the country illegally. He then confronted Democratic lawmakers, threatening to shoot a lawmaker who responded to his taunts.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.