FIRST TEAM
John Carona (R) Senate MVP
Sylvester Turner (D) House MVP
Glenn Hegar (R) Top Rookie
Warren Chisum (R)
Jim Dunnam (D)
Lois Kolkhorst (R)
Juan Hinojosa (D)
Jerry Madden (R)
Jane Nelson (R)
Robert Talton (R)
John Whitmire (D)
Judith Zaffirini (D)

HONORABLE MENTION
Charles "Doc" Anderson (R)
Kip Averitt (R)
Dennis Bonnen (R)
Dan Branch (R)
Garnet Coleman (D)
Frank Corte (R)
Dianne Delisi (R)
Bob Deuell (R)
Robert Duncan (R)
Craig Eiland (D)
Rob Eissler (R)
Kevin Eltife (R)
Mario Gallegos (D)
Will Hartnett (R)
Harvey Hilderbran (R)
Jim Keffer (R)
Carl Isett (R)
Sid Miller (R)
Rick Noriega (D)
Steve Ogden (R)
Kel Seliger (R)
Florence Shapiro (R)
Wayne Smith (R)
David Swinford (R)
Senfronia Thompson (D)
Vicki Truitt (R)
Leticia Van de Putte (D)
Kirk Watson (D)
Jeff Wentworth (R)
Tommy Williams (R)

June 4, 2007

Top Performers Saved Fighting
for Issues Amid Leadership War

Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Best Legislators First Team

Best Scenes from a Session

Most of the Texas legislators who had the biggest impact on this year's regular session had leading roles in the state budget debate, major health care initiatives, criminal justice reform and damage control aimed at defusing a public backlash on toll roads and a shocking sex scandal in the state's juvenile corrections system. Two other lawmakers who had maximum effect were key players on every issue in roles that affected the playing field's level while throwing up a record number of technical roadblocks to legislation that they saw as bad for the state but did not have the votes to kill.

While the House leadership revolt consumed big chunks of time in the closing days of the session, the speaker's race commanded banner headlines as a major sideshow distraction but did little to affect the stock of most members who had prominent parts in it when it came back to life in May. That's a sign that the battle for control of the House had no real winners - even though Speaker Tom Craddick prevailed on the strength of an incredible hard ball play that denied a vote to replace him.

With a pair of notable exceptions, the House members who made the first team on Capitol Inside's Best of the Legislature list for 2007 concentrated first and foremost on important legislation they were trying to pass before the clock ran out on the session after 140 days.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner is a prime example as a Houston Democrat who's support has been critical for Craddick. While Turner gave the speaker long periods of cover and helped instill a measure of calm in the chamber while subbing on the dais in the session's final days, his selection as one of the top performing legislators is based on his work on children's health insurance and criminal justice matters and not anything he did to help Craddick survive an attempted coup. Turner, who's announced that he's running for speaker himself, has been named as the Texas House's Most Valuable Player for the session that ended in late May.

Like Turner, Republican State Senator John Carona of Dallas was MVP on his side of the building as a result of leadership he provided in the Legislature's response to a political storm that had been spawned by legislation approved four years ago.

But while Turner turned in the House's top performance in the midst of a battle for speaker, Carona proved to be the most effective Senate member this year when he made the most of his first opportunity to take the lead on major legislation after being on the outside looking in for several years as the price he paid for being on the wrong side in a fight for his chamber's leadership.

None of the Texas legislators who had the biggest impact at the Capitol this year achieved that distinction by leading the move to oust Craddick, taking aim at him as candidates or rallying to his defense as loyal lieutenants when he was challenged at the start of the session and again at the end. The Texas lawmakers whose efforts were deemed worthy of top ten recognition were focused more on advancing legislation to shape the state's future or killing policy they perceived as a threat to it.

By the same token, one House Republican who had a leading part in the leadership rebellion made the honorable mention list this year along with 29 other House and Senate members. State Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican who dropped his support for Craddick when filing as candidate for speaker last month, had the lead role in the House on an ambitious cancer initiative that voters will weigh in a constitutional amendment. As the Ways and Means Committee chairman for the past two years, Keffer sponsored legislation to refine the business tax he'd sponsored in a special session last year. But Keffer - the House MVP in the 2006 special session - had a smaller part in this year's session than he did in sessions in 2005 and 2006 with school finance no longer hanging over the Legislature's head.

State Reps. Jim Dunnam of Waco and Robert Talton of Pasadena are the members of the insurgency that are first-team selections on the best legislators list for 2007. But the influence they had during the regular session extended well beyond the leadership battle.

Seven of the top 12 lawmakers on the first team this year are Republicans and the remaining five are Democrats. The Senate has four members on the list while six are from the House. Three of the best legislators this year are women. There are two Hispanic legislator and one African-American.

The 10 members who've been selected as a tribute to the effect and impact they had during the regular session have served an average of 15 years apiece. The longest serving lawmaker on the list in 2007 is a state senator who served two separate terms in the House before crossing the rotunda for the upper chamber. He's been a lawmaker at the Capitol for a total of 20 years. The legislator on the list with the least amount of experience has been on the job for only six years.

Four lawmakers who landed spots on the first team in 2007 - Chisum, Dunnam, Nelson and Zaffirini - are repeat performers two years after receiving that same honor at the end of the last regular session. Turner had been honored as one of the best legislators in 2003.

One Craddick Democrat and one Democratic House member on the other side in the speaker's race are on the 2007 best lawmaker list. Three of the four House Republicans who were among the top legislators during the session were Craddick supporters while one played a key role in the attempted overthrow. One Republican state senator on the list of top legislators is perceived as one of the chamber's most conservative members while a second senator from the GOP on the list has a relatively moderate voting record. Two Senate Democrats on the list are not the upper chamber's most conservative Democratic members or its most liberal.

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