June 28, 2011

All-Decade Teams Reflect Transition of Texas
from Democratic Territory to GOP Stronghold

Best of the Legislature 2011

All-Decade Team for 2000s

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Capitol Inside's first all-decade teams for the most outstanding legislators in Texas during the past 30 years confirms that the spoils belong to the victors in the highly partisan competition of state politics.

It's not rocket science. The party that wins at the polls has the power to decide who the stars will be by casting its most capable members in the leading roles on the major issues. The all-decade teams reaffirm that axiom.

Democrats for example had substantial majorities in both chambers in the 1980s - and Democratic legislators dominate the all-decade team for that span of time as a result. But the all-star team for the following decade reflects the partisan transition that began when Republicans took control of the Senate in 1997. While the House's top stars during the 1990s were mostly Democrats, the list of best senators for that particular decade is split evenly between lawmakers from both parties.

The all-decade team for the past 10 years mirrors the full conversion of the Legislature from deep blue to dark red with the GOP just one slot short of a supermajority with 65 percent of the 20 best House and Senate members in the 2000s.

The all-star roster for the most recent decade is based on our Best of the Legislature series selections for the past five regular sessions and two landmark special sessions on school finance and taxes in 2005 and 2006. The all-decades teams for the 1990s and 1980s are based partly on this writer's recollections as a former newspaper reporter who began covering the Legislature in 1983 along with observations from others who were on the front lines at the Capitol during those time periods.

Four Democrats - John Montford, John Whitmire, Steve Wolens and Judith Zaffirini - made the all-star teams for two separate decades. Zaffirini and Whitmire, who are based in Laredo and Houston respectively, are current members of the Texas Senate. Montford served as a Lubbock Democrat during a 16-year Senate stint that ended in 1996 when the GOP claimed its first majority in the Capitol's east wing. Wolens represented an innercity Dallas district in the House for two dozen years before stepping down in 2005.

Former Senate member Bill Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who served one term as acting lieutenant governor, is listed as one of the best legislators for two separate 10-year intervals as well.

The all-decades teams are limited to legislators who weren't presiding officers as House speaker or lieutenant governor at the time for which they've been honored. But two former speakers - Republican Tom Craddick of Midland and Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center - made the all-star teams for the decades preceding those in which they served as the chamber's top leader.

Six Republicans - John Carona of Dallas, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Jane Nelson of Lewisville, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Florence Shapiro of Plano and Ratliff - were shoo-ins for the Senate all-star team for the past 10 years. Four Democrats - Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen, Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Whitmire and Zaffirini - appear on the list of best legislators for the past decade as well.

Ratliff is the only member of the Senate's most recent all-decade team who's no longer a legislator. While Ratliff left the Legislature seven years ago, the valuable contributions that he made as the chamber's temporary presiding officer in 2001 and as the sponsor of historic tort reform legislation two years later made him worthy of a spot on the all-star team for the 2000s. Ratliff was arguably the Senate's most valuable GOP member throughout the 1990s as the chief budget writer for four years and the author of major public school reforms during two earlier regular sessions as the chairman of the committee that oversees education.

The five Senate Republicans on the all-decade team for the 1990s - Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Buster Brown of Lake Jackson, David Sibley of Waco, Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Ratliff - were all allies of legendary Democrat Bob Bullock when he led the chamber as lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1999. Bullock put those Republicans in position to shine despite criticism from partisan Democrats at a time when the GOP appeared destined to become the state's majority party. Bivins served as the Education Committee chairman in 1997 and 1999 before two sessions as the Finance Committee chair. Bivins, who died in 2009, was the U.S. ambassador to Sweden for two years after leaving the Legislature. Sibley was the Senate's point person for several years on economic development efforts while Brown chaired the Natural Resources Committee for several years beginning in 1995. Wentworth, the Nominations Committee chairman in 1999, had been appointed by Bullock to numerous special assignments including the lead roles in interim studies on public information and the court system.

The Senate all-star team for the 1990s includes Democrats Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Rodney Ellis of Houston, Montford, Whitmire and Zaffirini. Montford was the upper chamber's most powerful member during three regular sessions as the Finance Committee chairman before stepping down in 1996 to take the job as the chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. Ellis, who's still a state senator, led the Jurisprudence Committee for a two sessions in the 1990s before an appointment to Finance Committee chairman in 2001 after Ratliff won the lieutenant governor's job early that year when Republican Rick Perry inherited the governor's job in the wake of George W. Bush's election as president. Armbrister, who served six years in the House and 20 years in the Senate, has been Perry's legislative director since retiring from the upper chamber in 2007.

Whitmire, the current Senate Criminal Justice Committee chairman, had that role during several regular sessions in the 1990s. Zaffirini, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee now, led the Health and Human Services Committee throughout most of the Nineties. Bullock said privately that he considered Zaffirini to be the Senate's most effective member during his stint as the chamber's top leader.

Laney served a record-tying five terms as House speaker before Republicans claimed the majority and replaced him with Craddick in 2003. Like Bullock, Laney had appointed Republicans increasingly to key leadership positions as the GOP gained more ground in each election cycle. But Laney and his Democratic allies in the House managed to fend off repeated attempts by Republicans to wrestle away the majority - and the all-decade team for the lower chamber in the 1990s to no surprise is dominated by Democrats.

Democrats Rob Junell and Paul Sadler - the House members who held the most sway during Laney's tenure as speaker - are members of the lower chamber's all-star team for the 1990s along with former Democratic colleagues Hugo Berlanga, Garnet Coleman, Patricia Gray, Allen Hightower, Mark Stiles and Wolens. Junell was the House's lead budget writer as the Appropriations Committee chairman during four regular sessions while Sadler led the Public Education Committee throughout most of the 1990s. Sadler was the chairman of a special committee that Laney created to work on the landmark tax plan that Bush sought without success to pass in 1997.

Berlanga, who'd served as speaker pro tem throughout most of the 1980s, chaired the House Public Health Committee during three regular sessions the following decade. Stiles was the chairman of the powerful Calendars Committee for several sessions in the 1990s while Gray led the Public Health Committee and Civil Practices Committee during that decade. Hightower served for several years the Corrections Committee chairman. While Coleman wasn't a committee chairman in the the 1990s, he emerged as one of the House's most influential and knowledgeable members on health care during the decade.

The House all-star team for the 1990s includes two Republicans who are current legislators - John Smithee of Amarillo and Craddick. Smithee, who entered the lower chamber 26 years ago, sponsored landmark HMO reforms and other key measures as the House Insurance Committee chairman in the mid-1990s. Smithee's led the insurance panel for 10 consecutive terms.

Craddick's major claim to fame in the 1990s was his partisan leadership role in the GOP's quest for a House majority that it eventually secured eight years ago. But Craddick - the House's longest-serving current member in the midst of a 42-year stint - was one of the most influential Republicans on policy as well during that time period as the Public Health Committee chairman in 1991 before serving three terms as the leader of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Craddick's relationship with Laney eventually soured as a result of his politics - and he drew the Bush team's wrath in 1997 when he refused to support the governor's property tax plan after signing on initially as the House sponsor.

Before winning his first term as speaker in 1993, Laney had been one of the lower chamber's most powerful members as the State Affairs Committee chairman during five regular sessions after eight years at the helm of the Administration Committee. Laney, a prominent member of then-Speaker Gib Lewis' leadership during most of the 1980s, is one of eight Democrats on the all-star team for the lower chamber for that decade.

Wolens - the only House member selected to all-star teams for two separate decades - made his mark initially as a key player in the budget-writing process before three terms as the chairman of the Business & Commerce Committee. Wolen chaired the State Affairs Committee for two terms in the 1990s while Laney was speaker.

The list of House all-stars for the 1980s includes Democrats Bruce Gibson, James Hury, Stan Schlueter, Bill Messer, Jim Rudd and Ric Williamson, who switched to the GOP in 1994. Rudd chaired the Appropriations Committee throughout Lewis' five terms as speaker while Williamson emerged as one of the budget panel's leading members midway through the 1980s. Schlueter wielded immense sway as the Ways & Means Committee chairman for three terms before a stint in 1989 as the Calendars Committee chief. Gibson played a variety of key roles on Lewis' team while chairing the Financial Institutions Committee and Government Organization Committee at various points during the 1980s. Messer chaired the Calendars Committee in 1983 and 1985 before leaving the Legislature for a lucrative career in the Capitol lobby. Schlueter and Gibson have been influential lobbyists as well since retiring from the Legislature.

Williamson served 10 years in the House as a Democrat and four more as a Republican after switching parties in 1994. Williamson had entered the lower chamber in 1985 in a freshmen class that included Haskell Democrat Rick Perry - and the two had been good friends for more than a decade when Perry appointed Williamson to the Texas Transportation Commission during his first year on the job as governor. Perry had joined the GOP four years before Williamson, who was promoted to TTC chairman in 2004 and died of a heart attack in 2007 while still in his mid-50s.

Hury had been a rising star in the House on judicial issues during the 1980s before a tumultuous term as the Ways & Means Committee chairman that ended with his death in an airplane crash in 1992.

Mike Toomey and Jack Vowell - the only two GOP members on the House all-star list for the 1980s - had little in common beyond the R by their names. The first El Paso Republican to win a House seat in a general election, Vowell was liberal by GOP standards during a 14-year stint in the Capitol's west wing. But Vowell, who died in 2006, was highly respected on both sides of the aisle as a legislator with a religious devotion to his work on health and human service issues as a member of the Appropriations Committee for six terms beginning in 1983.

Toomey - in contrast - was a staunch conservative who led the Republican opposition to a record state tax hike in 1987. While Toomey was a major player on the state budget as a member of the Appropriations Committee in 1985, he served as the Judiciary Committee chairman during the regular session two years later. Since leaving the Legislature in 1988, Toomey has worked as chief of staff for two governors, Bill Clements and Perry. He's been one of the state's most successful lobbyists since the mid-1990s as well.

The all-decade team for the Senate in the 1980s was arguably the most talented group of them all. Nine of its members were Democrats while Arlington's Bob McFarland is the only senator on that particular list from the GOP. McFarland, who'd served three terms in the House before an eight-year Senate stint, chaired the Criminal Justice Committee in the upper chamber during his last two regular sessions. But McFarland was known mostly as one of the best technicians, strategists and consensus builders in modern legislative history.

Grant Jones of Abilene served as the Senate Finance Committee chairman from 1979 until a stunning Democratic primary defeat in a 1988 re-election bid. Kent Caperton of Bryan replaced Jones as the chamber's chief budget writer in 1989 after stints in the lead role on the Jurisprudence Committee and Criminal Justice Committee. Ray Farabee of Wichita Falls and Carl Parker of Port Arthur led the State Affairs Committee and Education Committee respectively during most of the Eighties while Tati Santesteban of El Paso chaired the Natural Resources Committee throughout the entire decade.

While Bob Glasgow of Stephenville played a variety of roles including stints as chair of the State Affairs Committee and Redistricting Committee, his most significant impact might have come as the Senate's point person in the monumental tax fight of 1987. Ed Howard of Longview was a bridge building team player whose leadership roles including several terms as the Senate Finance Committee vice-chairman. Oscar Mauzy, who'd chaired the Senate Education Committee throughout the 1970s, served three terms as the Jurisprudence Committee leader before his election to the Texas Supreme Court in 1986. Montford, the chamber's most powerful member in the first half of the 1990s as the lead budget writer, led the State Affaris Committee for two terms during the 1980s.

TEXAS SENATE 2000s
John Carona
R-Dallas

Robert Duncan
R-Lubbock

Juan Hinojosa
D-McAllen

Jane Nelson
R-Lewisville

Steve Ogden
R-Bryan
Bill Ratliff
R-Mount Pleasant
Florence Shapiro
R-Plano
Leticia Van de Putte
D-San Antonio
John Whitmire
D-Houston
Judith Zaffirini
D-Laredo

TEXAS HOUSE 2000s
Dan Branch
R-Dallas
Warren Chisum
R-Pampa
Dianne Delisi
R-Temple
Craig Eiland
D-Galveston
Rob Eissler
R-The Woodlands
Charlie Geren
R-Fort Worth
Jim Keffer
R-Eastland
Jim Pitts
R-Waxahachie
Senfronia Thompson
D-Houston
Sylvester Turner
D-Houston

TEXAS SENATE 1990s
Ken Armbrister
D-Victoria
Teel Bivins
R-Amarillo

Buster Brown
R-Lake Jackson

Rodney Ellis
D-Houston

John Montford
D-Lubbock
Bill Ratliff
R-Mount Pleasant
David Sibley
R-Waco
Jeff Wentworth
R-San Antonio
John Whitmire
D-Houston
Judith Zaffirini
D-Laredo

TEXAS HOUSE 1990s
Hugo Berlanga
D-Corpus Christi
Garnet Coleman
D-Houston
Tom Craddick
R-Midland
Patricia Gray
D-Galveston
Allen Hightower
D-Huntsville
Rob Junell
D-San Angelo
Paul Sadler
D-Henderson
John Smithee
R-Amarillo
Mark Stiles
D-Beaumont
Steve Wolens
D-Dallas

TEXAS SENATE 1980s

Kent Caperton
D-Bryan

Ray Farabee
D-Wichita Falls
Bob Glasgow
D-Stephenville
Ed Howard
D-Texarkana

Grant Jones
D-Abilene

Bob McFarland
R-Arlington
John Montford
D-Lubbock
Oscar Mauzy
D-Dallas
Carl Parker
D-Port Arthur
Tati Santiesteban
D-El Paso

TEXAS HOUSE 1980s
Bruce Gibson
D-Godley
James Hury
D-Galveston
Pete Laney
D-Hale Center
Bill Messer
D-Belton
Jim Rudd
D-Brownfield
Stan Schlueter
D-Killeen
Mike Toomey
R-Houston
Jack Vowell
R-El Paso
Ric Williamson
D-Weatherford
Steve Wolens
D-Dallas

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