June 2, 2009

Democrats and Republicans Land Six Spots
Each on First Team Dominated by Moderates

Best Legislators First Team

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Joe Straus (R) Republican MVP
Craig Eiland (D) Democrat MVP
Kip Averitt (R)
Dan Branch (R)
Robert Duncan (R)
Jim Dunnam (D)
Juan Hinojosa (D)
Ruth Jones McClendon (D)
Jim Pitts (R)
Florence Shapiro (R)
Senfronia Thompson (D)
Judith Zaffirini (D)

John Carona (R)
Warren Chisum (R)
Ellen Cohen (D)
Garnet Coleman (D)
Byron Cook (R)
Brandon Creighton (R)
Bob Deuell (R)
Joe Deshotel (D)
David Dewhurst (R)
Dawnna Dukes (D)
Rob Eissler (R)
Kevin Eltife (R)
Charlie Geren (R)
Glenn Hegar (R)
Scott Hochberg (D)
Donna Howard (D)
Carl Isett (R)
Delwin Jones (R)
Jim Keffer (R)
Edmund Kuempel (R)
David Leibowitz (D)
Trey Martinez Fischer (D)
Brian McCall (R)
Tommy Merritt (R)
Jane Nelson (R)
Steve Ogden (R)
John Otto (R)
Tan Parker (R)
Richard Raymond (D)

Allan Ritter (D)

Todd Smith (R)
Burt Solomons (R)
Larry Taylor (R)
Leticia Van de Putte (D)

Royce West (D)

John Whitmire (D)

Tommy Williams (R)

John Zerwas (R)

The Capitol Inside Best of the Legislature list for 2009 is a moderates' dream team that by no accidental coincidence reflects the center-lane approach that seemed to define the regular session that ground to a half late Monday night.

At a Texas Capitol where the House was almost evenly divided and the Senate was forced to work in a bipartisan fashion as a result of the two-thirds rule, it's probably fitting that six Republicans and six Democrats made first team this year on the web site's biennial all-star squad. The House placed seven members on the top tier of the list of the best performances by legislators during the 140-day regular session while five state senators joined them on the first team.

House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who shocked the state political establishment when he won the speaker's race in January on the first day of his third term, has the distinction of Most Valuable Republican Player on the best legislators' ranking for 2009. In what could be construed as an indirect victory for Straus, Galveston State Rep. Craig Eiland, the House speaker pro tem, is the Most Valuable Democratic Player on this year's list.

The House delegation on the list of the Legislature's most outstanding performances includes Democratic State Reps. Jim Dunnam of Waco, Ruth Jones McClendon of San Antonio and Senfronia Thompson of Houston, who all were named to the first team for remarkably different reasons. Republican State Reps. Dan Branch of Dallas and Jim Pitts of Waxahachie are first team as well.

The Senate is represented on the first team by Democratic State Senators Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo on the first team along with Republican State Senators Kip Averitt of Waco, Robert Duncan of Lubbock and Florence Shapiro of Plano.

Zaffirini, Hinojosa and Dunnam are the only repeat performers on the first team just two years after achieving that same honor in the wake of the last regular session in 2007.

The list of the top 12 legislators this year is diverse with two Hispanics, Hinojosa and Zaffirini and two African-Americans in McClendon and Thompson. Three women - Shapiro, Thompson and McClendon - are first teamers in 2009.

While conservative Republicans might tend to classify most if not all of the Democrats on the first team as liberals, none of the legislators who share that distinction are apt to be found at either end of the political philosophical spectrum. It wasn't designed to be that way. That's simply how it fell into place when legislators were critiqued based on the quality of individual performances that they turned in at the Capitol during the course of the past five months.

All of the 11 House Republicans who banded behind Straus and put him in position to win the speaker's race are listed on first team or honorable mention. Whether you think those particular legislators did a good or bad job beyond that particular point doesn't change the fact that the informal nomination of Straus as the alternative speaker candidate set the stage for a complete House overhaul - good, bad or otherwise.

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