Nelson and Hupp: At War on Child Abuse
Keffer and Geren: A Taxing Situation

May 30, 2005

Unsung Heroes Stepped Up to the Plate
When Going Got Rough in 79th Session

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The leaders of the Texas Legislature wielded an astonishing amount of power and worked it to their advantage inside their own chambers. But they'd raised the bar high - and when it came time to face the most imposing challenge of all - lofty ambitions collapsed into what could have beens because they failed the tests of timing and compromise.

The true measure of excellence in the 79th regular session wasn't who had the most overall power or the most experience or the most prestigious committee chairs. In a Legislature that had lost a wealth of experience and some of its biggest stars, a majority of the top legislators turned out to be those who entered the session with lower expectations than the obvious leaders and stepped up to the plate when expertise, guidance and a will to win were needed to overcome obstacles on the road to the major prescribed goals or to prevent them from happening.

There were winners and losers and stars and goats. But while the cream of the crop include some predictable names, the Capitol Inside list of top legislators for the 79th regular session shows that all in all it was the year of the unsung heroes at the Texas Capitol in 2005.

The top legislators of 2005 were instrumental in the passage of bills they deemed worthy and the killing of those that smelled bad to them. They translated seemingly convoluted subjects and complex language into words that the members who didn't attend Harvard or Rice could comprehend. They employed parliamentary procedure to scuttle bills and amendments and they knew when to invoke points of order and when to keep them close to the chest. They demonstrated why they'd earned the trust of their colleagues - and when adversity reared - the true stars of the session rode in to save the day.

The most valuable players in the House and the Senate are two old pros who achieved that distinction in very different ways. Besides both being Republicans from the Dallas area, the most critical common denominators they shared were commitments to principles that never wavered, a fierce determination to do their best and institutional savvy that gave them advantages that helped them succeed. State Senator Jane Nelson would not be denied in her pursuit of an agenda that in some ways reinforced her conservative image and in others defied it. She gave birth to landmark legislation for which there was no high-powered lobby and she blocked the number one priority for many of the most high-paid lobbyists in town. State Rep. Fred Hill was a man on a mission who was willing to give up a guaranteed place in the leadership in order to become a true leader. He empowered himself and others and cast partisanship to the wind while leading a revolution against a cornerstone part of the governor's agenda in the face of an unprecedented use of broadcast media to try influence the outcome of an issue and smear him and his allies as part of the plan.

The Capitol Inside list is an unscientific assessment of which state lawmakers made the most of the power they were afforded going into the 140-day session and while it transpired. The day-saving dozen plus one includes six committee chairs - unless you count the venerable State Senator Judith Zaffirini - whose position as vice-chair of Senate Finance gives her power at the same level as most committee chairs if not more. She's one of five women and two Democrats on the list of the top 13 members of 2005. The honorable mention list has 16 Democrats and 18 Republicans.

State Rep. John Otto is the most valuable freshman and top first-term member as a result. That's no surprise. The school tax bill would have never passed the House with the Dayton Republican there to walk members through it. State Reps. Rafael Anchia and David Leibowitz tied for the top freshmen Democrats. They both combined passion for public service with sharp intellects and speaking skills honed in careers as attorneys and left their mark on the House from the front and back mikes.

The success of the two most powerful legislators and the two most high-profile committee chairs was inextricably linked to the fates of HB 2 and 3. They have been ranked among the best since assuming their current positions - but this time is an exception - and the list to some degree seems naked without them. Nonetheless, here are our picks for 2005.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS
79TH LEGISLATURE 2005
Jane Nelson (R)
Fred Hill (R)

TOP TEXAS LEGISLATORS
79TH LEGISLATURE 2005
Kim Brimer (R)
Carter Casteel (R)
Warren Chisum (R)
Dianne Delisi (R)
Jim Dunnam (D)
Rob Eissler (R)
Charlie Geren (R)
Fred Hill (R)
Suzanna Hupp (R)
Jane Nelson (R)
Jim Pitts (R)
Steve Ogden (R)
Judith Zaffirini (D)

TOP FRESHMEN
79TH LEGISLATURE 2005
John Otto (R) - Most Valuable
Rafael Anchia (D)
David Leibowitz (D)

HONORABLE MENTION
79TH LEGISLATURE 2005
Ken Armbrister (D)
Dan Branch (R)
Garnet Coleman (D)
Robert Duncan (R)
Craig Eiland (D)
Rodney Ellis (D)
Dan Gattis (R)
Peggy Hamric (R)
Will Hartnett (R)
Glenn Hegar (R)
Scott Hochberg (D)
Carl Isett (R)
Kyle Janek (R)
Terry Keel (R)
Jim Keffer (R)
Lois Kolkhorst (R)
Eddie Lucio (D)
Vilma Luna (D)
Frank Madla (D)
Jose Menendez (D)
Sid Miller (R)
Elliott Naishtat (D)
Burt Solomons (R)
Todd Staples (R)
David Swinford (R)
Robert Talton (R)
Senfronia Thompson (D)
Vicki Truitt (R)
Sylvester Turner (D)
Carlos Uresti (D)
Mike Villarreal (D)
Royce West (D)
Jeff Wentworth (R)
John Whitmire (D)

 

 

TOP TEXAS LEGISLATORS 2005

 

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
TEXAS HOUSE

Fred Hill
Texas House
Richardson
Republican
1993-Present
Businessman

The time to kill a snake is when you've got the hoe in your hand. And you can quote Fred Hill on that. Never one to sugarcoat his feelings, the crusty House veteran offered up several classic one-liners then beat the snake to death and threw it in the Kool-Aid when he led a band of renegade Republicans who teamed with a majority of the Democrats in a fight against two of the session's top priorities for the governor and quite a few GOP grassroots supporters. Hill's brigade championed the cause of local control as it blew apart a move by the House to lower the cap on property appraisals and all but eviscerated a related bill to make it easer to force rollback elections when tax revenues exceed a certain level. Hill's troops would have killed the revenue rollback had it not been for a miscalculated point of order by a Democrat that gave the bill's supporters a chance to regroup. A fan of appraisal caps just two years ago, Hill's change of heart and unrelenting opposition this time around prompted the speaker to send the measure to a different committee than the Local Government Ways and Means panel that the Richardson Republican has chaired since the GOP claimed control of the chamber in 2003. The newfound position and leadership role triggered a chorus of protests from GOP activists and bloggers who called for Hill to consider switching parties or face a primary challenge when he's up for re-election next year. But Hill is no RINO - Republican in Name Only - and he voted with conservatives most of the time when the partisan line wasn't as blurred. What made him unique was the courage to go against the grain as an independent thinker in an arena where lockstep partisan politics have been more in vogue in recent years. But the key to Hill's success is the bank of trust he's built up over the years at the Texas Capitol. House members know he's shooting straight with them - even when it's not exactly what they might want to hear. Fred Hill is not only one of the most valuable players of the 79th session. He's a genuine state asset, a role model, a guy whose story ought to be mandated material for every civics textbook published in Texas for the next 20 years - or more.

 

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
TEXAS SENATE

Jane Nelson
Texas Senate
Lewisville
Republican
1993-Present
Businesswoman

The Texas Senate's most conservative member won every major fight she entered including some that never materialized simply because potential adversaries knew she was waiting on the other side. In a session that seemed more like a demolition derby to many high-level players and top committee chairs, she seemed firmly in command on the issues she was driving or trying to derail. The vice-chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission, Nelson added a provision to her State Board of Medical Examiners continuation bill to require parental consent before minors can have abortions - and then she threw up a roadblock when the House used the Public Utility Commission sunset bill she was sponsoring to give phone companies an advantage in a fight with the cable television industry. She sponsored a Medicaid management system that put the brakes on the expansion of a program that HMO's and the governor's top health and human services official were pushing - and she played a key role in the workers' compensation debate as a co-author of an overhaul of the state's system for treating injured workers. She pushed to have schools promote good health - and she passed bills dealing with health care contracts, hospital licensing, nursing homes, cervical cancer initiatives, trauma center funding, workforce issues, senior citizen immunizations and wine and beer sales. Nelson had her pink and white sneakers on her desk on the chamber floor ready to go if gambling proponents made a final run with a video lottery terminal amendment - and her singular opposition in the Senate was one of several reasons why slot machines didn't seem to have a chance in the final analysis despite a major lobbying push and predictions that this would be their year to pass. She challenged the Senate leadership on a statewide property tax and voted no on the school tax bill despite pressure to do otherwise. The Lewisville Republican's biggest victory seemed to defy the traditional conservative stereoptype because it had a hefty price tag and expanded a government agency often associated with the dreaded W word - welfare. But Nelson could not deny the shock and anger that most people who'd lived relatively normal lives all seemed to feel about reports of children dying and adults living in horrible conditions - and she championed a major reform of the protective services system and sent it to the governor. A former national baton twirling champion, Nelson handled her role this time around like a maestro.

 

MOST VALUABLE FRESHMAN

John Otto
Texas House
Dayton
Republican
2005-Present
CPA

John Otto is one of the Legislature's most unassuming members, his ego a dot on the map compared to the urban-sprawl opinions that many top legislators have of themselves. But he made a case for himself as most valuable freshman - and as a contender for most valuable player in general - by walking softly into a chamber in disarray on school taxes and saving House Bill 3 at the critical first stage of an eventually ill-fated trip through the process. Otto was more than simply an in-house tax accountant. The small-town CPA became the translator for an innovative plan that helped defuse opposition from the business community by giving its tax accountants a choice on whether to pay for the privilege of operating in Texas with taxes on payroll or capital. Otto not only rescued the GOP leadership but he earned the respect and admiration of Democrats as well. He's a rare breed of lawmaker who doesn't seem to have a partisan bone in his body despite the fact that he appears to be as conservative or more so than most members in both chambers. Otto made history or came close to it when he was chosen to represent the House on what was arguably the most important conference committee created in the past 140 days. Freshmen members rarely make such a splash. But will fame change him or go to his head? Don't bet on it. The guy seems truly down to Earth and smart enough to know when he's got a good thing going.

 

 

Kim Brimer
Texas Senate
Fort Worth
Republican
2003-Present
Businessman

Kim Brimer has dedicated a sizeable chunk of a career in the Legislature to helping big corporations get out of paying school taxes in the name of economic development and job creation. He wrote the legislation that lets major league sports franchises build new stadiums and arenas with taxpayer funds - and he sponsored the governor's enterprise fund. But the Legislature's top tax break broker sees them as investments that are supposed to pay dividends in the form of economic and employment growth - and the companies that have been dodging the franchise tax hadn't agreed to do that when they organized on paper in Delaware and other tax havens. So the former chairman of the House Business & Industry Committee went to work a year ago on a plan to bring state business taxation into the current century - and he came to the rescue when the Senate's school finance effort appeared to be on the verge of collapsing. The Brimer amendment on the tax bill gave the Senate a realistic tool for conference negotiations while showing a way to close the escape hatch through which businesses have eluded state taxes at the public schools' expense. That landed him temporary work as one of the upper chamber's lead negotiators on HB 3. The vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Brimer continued to push for the right of school districts to subsidize property taxes for companies that promise to invest in their local communities - and he passed bill to help communities attract special events by using portion of sales taxes they generate to offset some expenses. In his second regular session in the Senate, Brimer made a case for a place on the A team.

 

 

Carter Casteel
Texas House
New Braunfels
Republican
2003-Present
Attorney

Carter Casteel might have missed her calling when she didn't become a preacher with a show on satellite television or a big blue tent at least with lots of offering plates. The raw country power and zeal of her oratory on subjects dear to the heart would make most fire-and-brimstone evangelists green with envy. But the passion would be wasted if not for the poignant words that she used to appeal to the consciences and hearts and souls of her House colleagues. Casteel became a school teacher instead - and after that she entered public service as the Comal County judge for an eight-year stint. So now that she's a legislator, it should come as no surprise why she's so opposed to school vouchers and property appraisal caps and revenue limitations that would take money from public schools and handcuff local governments. Growing up in West Texas, Casteel was taught that if you're going to do something, do it well. As a result, the New Braunfels Republican wasn't content to simply vote against vouchers and property appraisal limits and the bill to make it easier to force local tax rollback elections. She dove into the middle of the fight and helped deliver the knockout punch to appraisal caps before diluting the revenue caps measure. Her leadership and fiery elocution in the vouchers fight helped take the steam out of any momentum supporters had going into it. Her high-profile opposition to all of the above guaranteed her the wrath of conservatives within her party and supporters of the governor who had made the local tax relief measures a centerpiece of his agenda. But it didn't stop her from passing almost two dozen other bills affecting county government, estate planning, state employees and other issues. And it made her a hero for life with the folks who represent cities and counties and schools and those who run them back home as well.

 

 

Warren Chisum
Texas House
Pampa
Republican
1989-Present
Oil and Gas Producer

Gay bashing and bill killing were Warren Chisum's top claims to fame during eight years as a House Democrat and eight more as a Republican. But no one ever questioned his dedication to rural Texas, which was evident when the Panhandle lawmaker saved the school finance bill after leading a group of rural House members who agreed to support the measure after wrangling more than $100 million for school buses that have to travel long miles through wide open country each day. Then Chisum came to the tax bill's rescue and was all but leading the floor fight by the time it passed. Same story on the state budget. Chisum prevailed on more than a dozen motions to table that he made on the budget, tax and school bills - and he fended off numerous other amendments with points of order that the chair sustained. Chisum's performance on HB 3 earned him an appointment as a tax conferee despite the fact that he doesn't even serve on the Ways and Means Committee. Until that point, his only official role on the leadership team was as an Appropriations subcommittee chair. But his status as folk hero among conservative Republican activists was solidified when lawmakers decided to give voters an opportunity to add the Defense of Marriage Act that Chisum passed two years ago to the state Constitution. He took an ill-advised shot at the comptroller with an amendment that he slipped through the House in a midnight fog but admitted the mistake and quickly undid it with minimal pain. In a House that had lost a handful of its top leaders, Chisum stepped up to the plate and showed how it's done.

 

 

Dianne Delisi
Texas House
Temple
Republican
1991-Present
Former Teacher

Dianne Delisi is a vintage Cabernet who seems to get better with time and experience. She ventured into the crossfire of a white hot lobby fight over Medicaid reform and persuaded 147 House members to trust her enough to gamble on a new and untested system in place of an HMO expansion that the governor's team was pushing aggressively without his obvious personal support. By the time Delisi made her case, more than 130 fellow representatives had signed on as co-sponsors. In her first session as the Public Health Committee chair, Delisi strengthened a trauma care program that she'd created two years before and won House support for bills designed to help cervical cancer victims, disabled people who want to work and taxpayers who will benefit from a streamlined benefits delivery system at health and human services agencies. The Temple Republican emerged as key member of the sales team that was picked for a weeklong public relations blitz on the school finance bill - and she was instrumental in the floor effort on HB 2 as well. When the speaker had to face a group of Republican activists angry about the House tax bill, he wanted Delisi by his side as an expert resource and as a popular leader with a natural ability to disarm her biggest foes. A former Appropriations vice-chair and veteran of budget conference committees, Delisi was tapped to be a conferee on the school bill. With Delisi on the conference committee, the speaker felt like he could afford to take the chance to appoint three up-and-coming sophomore members to help the old pros negotiate a final deal. Delisi's stance on Medicaid reform put her at odds with key current and ex-members of the governor's staff, which is led by a chief of staff who's married to a GOP consultant who happens to be the legislator's son. But Delisi the lawmaker seemed oblivious to her family connections and came away from conference committee with about 90 percent of what she proposed from the outset.

 

 

Jim Dunnam
Texas House
Waco
Democrat
1997-Present
Attorney

History will look back on the regular sessions in 2003 and 2005 as a tale of two houses that were as different as night and day - on the surface at least. Gentleman Jim Dunnam was a big reason for that. The leader of the House Democratic Caucus made a conscious decision to shed the image of James Dean Dunnam the rebellious malcontent in favor of a demeanor and style that made the Republicans and a few members of his own party less inclined to want to run over him every chance they might get. The eight-year House veteran chose to respectfully disagree with GOP leaders instead of showering them with indignation and insults - and he and his caucus allies decided they could be more effective with a proactive approach than simply waiting for something to criticize. The makeover had a dramatic effect on the tone of the chamber - making it easier for moderate Republicans and Democrats who'd backed the Republican speaker to vote with the caucus on key issues such as school vouchers, school finance, property taxes and budget needs like teacher pay and health insurance. The newfound civility appeared to be seriously threatened when Dunnam was hammered with the blame for a move by Democrats to force a floor vote on campaign finance. But Dunnam responded to a hail of criticism with a cool measured defense and kept the nice guy on track. Dunnam and the Dems helped block gambling even though they'd never really been against it until now - and while they failed to get something tangible out of that particular play - it showed they were a force who would have to be reckoned with sometimes. That was evident when they teamed with a dozen Republicans to fight a school vouchers plan, which Dunnam got official credit for killing with a point of order that the speaker sustained. The D's won't win that many until there are more of them. But they took a step forward this year and not back.

 

 

Rob Eissler
Texas House
The Woodlands
Republican
2003-Present
Executive Recruiter

Rob Eissler - a former Navy fighter pilot who went to Princeton University - was the top gun in the Texas House ground attack on school finance. Blending a disarming sense of humor with the knowledge and wisdom one might expect from an 18-year veteran of the local school board, the second-term Republican from The Woodlands was the key cog in the floor effort and instrumental in committee deliberations on House Bill 2. Eissler was a ready resource with information members needed on the intricacies and dynamics of the public education system in Texas and how the bill would affect it. He had a command of the bill's mechanics and the political expectations and trepidations surrounding it - and that gave him the ability to articulate the innovative qualities of the measure such as an unusual teacher pay raise proposal for which he made a credible defense in the face of grilling from skeptical Democrats. Eissler's efforts earned him a spot on the conference committee on school finance - the session's number one priority. But Eissler's contributions didn't end there. As the vice-chairman of the Human Services Committee, Eissler had an important role in the process that shaped legislation to reform the state's beleaguered protective systems for children and adults. He passed bills to correct state law on health savings accounts and to protect suburban residents from double taxation for emergency services - and he displayed a fair-minded approach with legislation to make school districts take extraneous factors into account before cracking down on students for disciplinary reasons. Eissler's barking canine bill turned out to be a dog that wouldn't hunt. But his work on the two most critical issues was all-star level - especially for a sophomore who should still be learning his way around.

 

 

Charlie Geren
Texas House
Fort Worth
Republican
2001-Present
Businessman

Charlie Geren is effective because people like him a lot and he puts his heart into his work. Democrats think he'd make a good House speaker - and the speaker thinks enough of him to have appointed him to the conference committee on the school tax shift. Considering that the speaker hasn't made a habit of rewarding moderate Republicans, the appointment to the negotiating panel on the session's number one priority tells you how valuable and talented Geren can be. He approached that task with an unmatched vigor and intensity that made him look out of breath and somewhat haggard by the time the clock ran out. But while the owner of one of Fort Worth's most popular barbecue restaurants emerged as a key player on taxes, Geren's finest moment came when he teamed up with the Democrats and a dozen other Republicans to battle school vouchers at a time when GOP members were under tremendous pressure to vote the party line. He worked the floor vigorously and fought fire with innovative amendments, tenacity and wit instead of relying solely on the standard talking points. Geren made the motives of voucher supporters appear somewhat suspect with an amendment that took Fort Worth out of a pilot program and forced the nearby suburban districts of the two main bill sponsors into the bill instead. Then he landed the killer punch - an amendment that limited the program to transfers among public schools. He outbluffed himself on casinos but passed bills on a range of other subjects including a measure that will facilitate repairs of bridges, roads and other infrastructure damaged during a catastrophe. Geren - the freshman of the year in 2001 - has a brother who served in Congress as a Democrat. Geren the state legislator votes a lot with Democrats and even more with Republicans. But he's an independent thinker first - and he seems to be having fun at what he does.

 

 

Suzanna Hupp
Texas House
Lampasas
Republican
1997-Present
Chiropractor

Suzanna Gratia Hupp might have seemed an unlikely candidate to lead an interim study on child welfare and foster care. A libertarian-minded conservative who'd campaigned on the joys of shrinking government and keeping it out of people's hair, Hupp didn't fit the profile of a legislator who'd want to pump more tax money into an agency that went into some people's homes and took their children away. But Hupp, who's witnessed unspeakable horror in her own life, was overwhelmed by reports and photos of children living and dying in nightmare conditions that would only get worse without state intervention. In the Lampasas Republican's view, this was war, and winning it was more important at that point in time than the considerable cost of waging it because lives were on the line. Her interim work earned her an appointment to the job of Human Services Committee chair - and she shepherded a comprehensive overhaul of the state's child and adult protective services systems through the House before leading the lower chamber's negotiators on SB 6. She'd drawn a few chuckles for speaking against then voting for an amendment to ban gay foster homes - but she used it to gain an advantage in conference before reaching a deal with the Senate. Since watching her parents and others die 14 years ago when a gunman opened fire in a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Hupp's central claim to fame has been her passionate defense of the Second Amendment and national campaign in support of gun owners rights. She didn't give that up just because she had a full plate with CPS - and she passed legislation to lower the age for concealed weapons permits to 18 for military personnel and veterans. With part of Fort Hood in her district, quite a few constituents will appreciate that.

 

 

Steve Ogden
Texas Senate
Bryan
Republican
1997-Present
Oil and Gas Producer

Steve Ogden paid his dues for more than a dozen years in the House and the Senate before the current lieutenant governor gave him the opportunity to realize his vast potential and become a major star. Ogden earned the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the partisan aisle because he did his homework - and that made him prepared for the most overwhelming, most time-consuming, most important - and as often reported - the most powerful position that a senator can have as the chairman of the Finance Committee. Writing a two-year for a state that's bigger than most countries requires an immense amount of overtime, an iron will, humility, disciplined compassion and an ability to say no over and over again. That's a lot to ask of a single human being - but that was just his day job. Ogden kept the candle burning while doubling as the sponsor of an $8 billion tax shift that came with the added pressure of incomparable hype and a stern court order - and he had the guts to let it fail when his team decided it would favor businesses that had been dodging state taxes at the expenses of people who'd been paying them. A former Naval Academy graduate and submarine officer, he gracefully dodged torpedoes coming from every angle, standing up to criticism but not taking it too personally. After one Senate Democrat complained about the Senate giving in too much to the House, the other Democrats in the chamber used the kind of superlatives Bill Ratliff and Teel Bivins used to hear when they praised his work in his first regular session as the point man on the budget. Ogden found time to carry a long list of local bills on issues ranging from courts to municipal utility districts along with measures that followed up on the major transportation legislation he sponsored in the Senate two years ago. Back in a district anchored by Texas A&M, the home folks will be glad to hear that Ogden's first state budget boosts funds for higher education and state employees while meeting most essential needs without bells and whistles. Conservative activists think it's way too much and liberals think it's stingy - and that's another way of saying job well done when you've had to divide up $140 billion.

 

 

Jim Pitts
Texas House
Waxahachie
Republican
1993-Present
Attorney

He won't be able to say no. That was the only knock on Jim Pitts when he was ordained as the new House Appropriations Committee chairman less than two months before the regular session. The guy was simply too nice for a job at requires a cold exterior and vast emotional detachment to keep from drowning in guilt. But that would never really be a problem for the Waxahachie Republican who was tapped to lead the budget-writing panel a few weeks after the original Republican appropriations chair - Talmadge Heflin - came in second on election night in November last year. As long as Pitts would not say no to one particular person - the speaker of the House - things would fall in place from there. But Pitts had prior experience on the panel - and he'd been a budget conferee before - and he pulled off a nice balancing act in his first swing as chair while showing toughness and discipline when needed and a kind heart whenever possible en route to passing a $140 billion two-year state budget without making anybody real mad. Unless you count the conservative activists who were taken aback at first when they read that Pitts' budget would send state spending soaring almost 20 percent. But that was just one way of looking at a picture that looks different depending on the angle of the viewing lens. When compared to the amount of money the state actually spent in the currnent biennium as opposed to the amount that was appropriated two years ago, the new budget - and throw in Medicaid funding increases forced upon the state by the feds - and the budget has enough to cover most projected growth but not a lot more. Pitts' first budget received a few more votes than Heflin managed in his first stab at that task - but it didn't produce a fraction of the grumbling about members being ignored when they sought to address a local concern. Pitts enjoyed bipartisan popularity - and Democats weren't inspired to battle him as ferociously as the'd fought Heflin during the budget debate two years ago. Pitts' best session in a 12-year House career took place less than a year after his wife of many years died in a car wreck that his son survived. Maybe the focus on the budget was a catharsis of sorts. One way or another, Pitts made it look easy - and his success is a testament to the fact that nice guys don't always finish last.

 

 

Judith Zaffirini
Texas Senate
Laredo
Democrat
1987-Present
Consultant

The lieutenant governor vowed diversity on the conference committees that would fashion final plans for school finance and property tax relief - and he made good on the promise by naming four white Republican men and Judith Zaffrini to the team of negotiators on House Bill 3. But while Zaffirini's appointment assured that females and Hispanics and even Democrats would be represented at the table on taxes, it wasn't a token pick by any stretch of the imagination. The veteran Laredo Democrat was chosen to carry the Senate's banner in conference negotiations on the state budget, protective services reform and the major tax swap bill because she's been in roles like this many times before and excelled most every time. Higher education is her paramount passion, but her chief duty as a senator is to oversee the funding of state services for the disabled, the elderly, the children and other Texans in need. That was her primary job as the Health and Human Services chair for three sessions - and that's what she does as the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The people who depend on her have come out better at the end of every session than they would have if she'd not there to watch out for them - and the 2005 session was no exception to that trend. This time around Zaffirini took aim at the eternities that society's most vulnerable have been spending on long waiting lists before they can get the services they need - and she found ways to essentially move them all to the front of the lines or not that far behind. She came up with plans to fund benefits for newly-hired CPS workers and foster care rate increases. And she killed the funds for a Medicaid HMO expansion in the budget-writing committee and then produced the rider that implemented an alternative plan favored by the doctors and hospitals. There were were many reasons why the leader of the Senate wanted Zaffirini on conference committees on three of the session's four biggest ticket issues. But the most compelling one of all is because she has the will to win.

 

TOP FRESHMEN DEMOCRATS

 

David Leibowitz
Texas House
San Antonio
Democrat
2005-Present
Attorney

David Leibowitz brought a great deal of seasoning to his freshman session, adding to speculation that he may be looking to higher office before his political career is through. A presence on the back mic during sometimes-arcane legal debates, the always respectful native of South Texas showed a steely determination beneath his amiable exterior. He passed a bill to help UTSA, which is located in his district, manage its recreational programs - and he won support for a bill to help counties fight illegal dumping. He championed a wide array of issues in his bills, from preventing post-disaster price gouging and stricter prescription drug labeling to public nuisance reform, better insurance disclosure and the creation of a paper trail for electronic voting machines - all issues that could easily be dealt with by, say, a Texas Attorney General. Those who think he may have a race for that office in his future saw nothing this session to make them change their minds.

 

Rafael Anchia
Texas House
Dallas
Democrat
2005-Present
Attorney

Rafael Anchia may be best known outside his district as the lawmaker who survived a highway crash that claimed the life of his friend, the late State Rep. Joe Moreno, as they returned from a Houston Rockets playoff game in early May. But fellow House members got to know Anchia this year as a lawmaker who has the poise, intellect and style to be a major star on some higher level. Anchia emerged as the most compelling voice in a fight against a voter identification measure that he said would stifle democracy by discouraging some people from voting - and he argued eloquently against dividing people based on sexual orientation. Anchia passed legislation initiating a study for an emergency technologies initiative proposed by the governor - and he passed a bill to modernize the transfer of voter registrar funds to counties and another to let counties give preference to contractors who provide health insurance coverage for their employees.

 

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