Lois Kolkhorst, Warren Chisum, Dan Branch, Tom Craddick and Frank Corte Meet the Press.

House Rankings Senate Rankings Top Freshmen Bonus Points

April 3, 2007

Loyalty to Leaders and Campaign Cash
Pay Off with Clout for Texas Legislators

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Editors Note: The most recent update has been on April 17 with Sylvester Turner, Lois Kolkhorst, Charlie Geren, Senfronia Thompson, Fred Hill and Dan Gattis making the most notable leaps up the power list in the past week. The rankings for legislators will be updated as needed to capture the shifts that occur as the regular session unfolds this year.

In Texas House politics, what doesn't kill you makes those who saved you stronger at the expense of those who tried to knock you out. Republican State Reps. Warren Chisum and Jim Pitts - the current Appropriations Committee chairman and the chair he succeeded - are the prime examples of that in the wake of the later's ill-fated race against House Speaker Tom Craddick for the chamber's top leadership post earlier this year.

The Power of Giving: Campaign
Contributions from Legislators

Renegade Republicans Wield
Power as Group in House

Pitts' quixotic plunge was Chisum's springboard to the pinnacle of Capitol Inside's Texas Legislature Power Rankings for state House members in 2007. The Pampa Republican who used to be a Democrat ranks second only to the speaker himself while Pitts has fallen off the list of the 75 most powerful Texas House members with less than two months to go in the 80th regular session.

MOST POWERFUL FRESHMEN
Based on Committee Assignments
& Sponsorship of Major Legislation

Texas Senate

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst did an artful job of evening the playing field for the Senate's five first-term members with the committee assignments that he announced for the regular session. All five Senate rookies - three Republicans and two Democrats - are committee vice-chairs with seats on three other standing panels and at least one subcommittee post. But two first-term Senate Republicans - State Senators Glenn Hegar of Katy and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville - are tied for first place on the list of most powerful freshmen members as a result of their roles as sponsors on legislation that would nullify Governor Rick Perry's HPV vaccine mandate and slap a moratorium on toll roads that he envisions as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Their fellow Senate rookies - State Senators Dan Patrick of Houston, Carlos Uresti of San Antonio and Kirk Watson of Austin have two months to catch up and the talent and ability to do so.

Texas House

1, Wayne Christian - Center Republican and former Grammy award nominee is not a true freshmen member in light of the fact that he served four terms in the Legislature before falling short in a 2004 congressional race then winning his state House seat back last year by ousting his successor with the help of Jim Leininger's money in the primary election. He's been a favorite among social conservatives and has the perfect name for that - and now he's the vice chairman of one of the House's most powerful committees, Regulated Industries, and a State Affairs member as well.

2. Joe Heflin - West Texas Democrat who replaced former Speaker Pete Laney isn't on Appropriations and he's not a committee vice-chair like some fellow rookies, but he's already had impact as the sponsor of an amendment that prohibits money in the state budget from being spent on school vouchers. A former county judge who represents a very rural district, Heflin's seats on Agriculture & Livestock and County Affairs seem to be a good fit.

3. Drew Darby - After knocking off an incumbent who had the support of party heavyweights, San Angelo Republican who's a former city councilman landed seats on Appropriations, House Administration and Business & Industry as the budget & oversight chair.

4. Eddie Lucio III - Brownsville Democrat who's son of veteran state senator was rewarded handsomely as the only freshmen Democrat to back the Republican speaker for re-election with appointments to Appropriations, Locan & Consent Calendars and Environmental Regulation as the budget & oversight chair.

5 (tie). Brandon Creighton - Conroe Republican scored two vice-chair posts on General Investigating & Ethics and Local Government Ways and Means along with seat on Natural Resouces Committee.

5 (tie). John Zerwas - Doctor who's one of Senator Kyle Janek's medical partners has seat on Appropriations, Land & Resource Management budget & oversight chair and spot on House Administration as well.

Across the rotunda, one senator has shown that absolution is possible in the Legislature's upper chamber for Republicans who betrayed the Senate's leader by supporting his Democratic opponent the first time he sought the post. State Senator John Carona's patience, hard work and late-train loyalty paid off with his appointment as chairman of a committee that gave him a stage on which to be the Trans-Texas Corridor's number one nemesis and a launching pad into the ranks of the 10 state senators with the most sway in 2007.

The veteran Dallas lawmaker is the only new face on the Senate's top 10 most powerful list - and that's a notable achievement considering the caliber of competition in a chamber where even the freshmen have considerable clout. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst crowns the list of the Senate's most powerful members while Republican State Senators Steve Ogden of Bryan and Robert Duncan of Lubbock are ranked second and third respectively after switching places that they held on the 2006 power list. Ogden is the Senate's lead budget-writer as the Finance Committee chairman while Duncan leads what's arguably the second most influential panel in the chamber as the State Affairs chair.

Three Texas House members - Republican State Rep. Will Hartnett of Dallas and Democratic State Reps. Jim Dunnam of Waco and Sylvester Turner of Houston - have cracked the list of the 10 most powerful House members for the first time since the power rankings' inception three years ago.

Hartnett - the special master two years ago in a failed election challenge by the chamber's chief Republican budget-writer - led the floor fight on Craddick's behalf during the January election for the lower chamber's top leadership post. Turner helped deliver Democratic votes that Craddick desperately needed to win another term as speaker. Hartnett and Turner are ranked sixth and seventh respectively. Dunnam is fifth on the House power list in 2007 after being ranked 46th one year ago. Here's why:

Some Republicans will view Dunnam as the ringer on the top ten most powerful list as a legislator whose committee assignments are more payback than plums as a result of the frequent criticism he's aimed at Craddick and the leadership since taking over as the House Democratic Caucus chairman in 2003 when Republicans had seized control of the chamber for the first time in more than 130 years. But the 10-year House veteran from Waco has been having more impact on the lawmaking process this year than he has since a majority of House members were Democrats - and the political action committee that Dunnam controls helped make that possible by dishing out more than $1 million during the last election cycle when Democrats gained a half-dozen state House seats. Dunnam has prevailed this year in floor fights on the House rules, the sex offender bill, the Texas Youth Commission and other key issues. Republicans killed the TYC reform plan on a point of order because the Democratic caucus leader was having too much impact on it during the debate. The more clout that Dunnam wields, the more he's come under fire from the Texas Republican Party, which has castigated him as an obstructionist and gone as far as to blast him for the clients that his law firm represents. That's a telling gauge of power in the Texas House.

The hierarchy of power on both sides of the rotunda is based on an accumulation of points that legislators are awarded for committee appointments and other assignments, political influence in roles such caucus officer, key parts on major legislation and outside positions including seats on panels sponsored by national organizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments.

Some lawmakers are enjoying more clout than usual this year as a result of their involvement on unforeseen issues including the Texas Youth Commission sex scandal, the controversy over coal plants and the move to repeal an executive order on the HPV vaccine.

On the heels of an election-year that narrowed the gap between Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature's lower chamber, the power rankings for the first time also award points to legislators who controlled political action committees that raised substantial sums of money for legislative races between 2004 and 2006 and those who made sizeable individual contributions to candidates during that time.

The kings in this category in the west wing were Craddick on the GOP side and Dunnam, who vaulted into the top 10 after being ranked 46th a year ago, thanks in large part to his PAC the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the role it had protecting incumbents while Democrats had their best showing at the polls in state House races since 1964 when Lyndon Johnson won the White House race.

Six Democrats including Turner and Dunnam are ranked among the 30 most powerful House members while a total of 16 Democratic representatives have qualified for the top 50. The list of the 75 most powerful House members has a grand total of 22 Democrats on it. The Democrats - as a result - despite laying claim to 46 percent of the 150 seats in the Legislature's lower chamber - occupy only 29 percent of the top 75 slots on the list of the most powerful Texas House members.

Seven of the Senate's 20 most powerful members are Democrats but only two with D's by their names - State Senators Senators John Whitmire of Houston and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo - are ranked among the 10 members with the most clout in the Capitol's east wing. Whitmire, who served 10 years in the House before joining the Senate in 1983, has been wielding more power this year than usual as the chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee and co-chair of a joint select committee that's been appointed to investigate a sex scandal that's rocked the Texas Youth Commission.

Zaffirini - a 20-year Senate veteran who's the Finance Committee vice-chair and Higher Education Subcommittee chair - has been one of the chamber's most influential members for years. Zaffirini and Whitmire are two of Dewhurst's top allies - and they're both members of the Legislative Budget Board as well.

Guide to Democrats' Agenda
a Prime Example of Unique
Ways Members Add Muscle

State Rep. Garnet Coleman can no longer count on plum committee assignments as a Democratic House leader who's persona non grata with the Republican leadership team after criticizing Speaker Tom Craddick frequently during the past few years. But the veteran legislator from Houston still wields significant sway in the lower chamber as a result of less conventional sources of power that he's tapping effectively.

Coleman donated more cash to candidates and committees in the past three years than any other House member not counting the speaker. He chairs the Legislative Study Group, which dissects and analyzes legislation as a way of arming his allies for the debate on key issues. He demonstrated his experience and talent in the art of floor debate while passing amendments to repair CHIP and Medicaid during the House budget debate.

Now Coleman has added another point to his power score in 2007 with the publication of a report that he's compiled to showcase the agenda of House Democrats for the regular session. Moving Texas Forward, a 22-page publication that's complimented by a web site at www.movingtexasforward.net, features short and simple explanations of bills and resolutions that Democratic House members view as their top session priorities. The information for the report is submitted by fellow House Democrats.

Coleman's legislative priorities guide is an example of the unique ways that legislators add to their foundations of power beyond basic committee appointments and other assignments that others have bestowed on them. Here are some unique attributes that are worth bonus points on the power rankings.

Top Lieutenants, Key Democrats and Votes for Winner in the Speaker's Race - Democrats who backed Tom Craddick get two extra points while Republicans get one bonus point for supporting the Republican incumbent. Several House members received huge boosts as top lieutenant's for Craddick when he was under siege before the session began.

George W. Bush Major County Co-Chair - Dan Branch was on the fast track to power when he arrived in the House after helping elect Bush to the Governor's Mansion and the White House. This distinction was worth more before Bush became a lame duck with low poll numbers.

Military Officer on Active War Duty - House members Frank Corte, Carl Isett and Rick Noriega all qualify for bonus points here after stints in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistant respectively while their wives filled in for them in the House during sessions. .

Top Technical Tax Expert - John Otto rose through the power ranks quickly after entering the House two years ago in the midst of a school finance crisis when his counsel as a CPA with a strong tax background made him one of the most important players.

Speaker's Power Breakfast Group - Several top Craddick lieutenants talk strategy when they huddle with him for the first meals of the day early in the morning every Monday and Thursday. A standing invite to these is good for bonus points and presumably some protein and carbohydrates as well.

Top Bob Perry Democrat - Nederland's Allan Ritter dropped a few notches after joining the insurgents in the bid to oust Craddick as speaker this year. But he'll still have significant power as long as the Houston home builder who's the GOP's number one donor at the state and national levels continues to appreciate the good work he did as the sponsor of the Residential Construction Commission in 2003.

MVP in Special Election - Republican Dennis Bonnen was a valuable guide for Mike O'Day in his bid for the House in a special election after Glenda Dawson died.

Namesake for Key Legislation - Remember the Hochberg Amendment? That's what everyone called the Democrats' floor substitute that effectively blew up a special session on school finance in 2005 when it was adopted to the surprise and dismay of GOP leaders. But have you been around long enough to remember the Brimer Bill that made it possible to build places like the Astros' Minute Maid Park, the Spurs' AT&T Center and other pro sports venues in Texas after it passed in 1997? Give Scott Hochberg and Kim Brimer a bonus point each for those feats.

Namesake for Government Buildings - Judith Zaffirini would be one of the 10 most powerful state senators even if she didn't have an elementary school and a community college library named after her back home in Laredo. That's quite a tribute to an illustrious career.

State Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano ranks fourth on the Senate power list as the Education Committee chairwoman who's also a member of the special panel that's investigating the crisis at the TYC. State Senator Jane Nelson, a Lewisville Republican who chairs the Health & Human Services Committee, ranks fifth this time around. Republican State Senator Kip Averitt of McGregor continued his march up the power chart as the sixth highest-ranked member after being listed eighth in 2006. Whitmire and Zaffirini are ranked seventh and eighth respectively on the Senate power list ahead of Carona. Republican State Senator Kim Brimer of Fort Worth - as the chair of both the Administration Committee and Sunset Advisory Commission - is 10th while State Senator Kyle Janek, a Houston Republican, is very close behind at number 11 on the Senate power list in 2007.

The House list also features familiar names in its upper echelons. Republican State Reps. Phil King of Weatherford and Jim Keffer of Eastland are ranked third and fourth respectively followed by Dunnam, Hartnett and Turner. State Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican who represents Highland Park in Austin, is eighth on the list of most powerful House members in the wake of his recent appointment as the chairman of a select House committee that will examine public and higher education finance issues during the regular session and the interim that follows. Republican State Rep. David Swinford of Dumas - the ninth-ranked House member on this year's power list - demonstrated the kind of sway that he's been afforded when he buried a slew of bills cracking down on illegal immigration in his position as the State Affairs Committee chairman because he didn't think they could stand up in court. State Rep. Beverly Woolley of Houston ranks 10th on the House power list thanks to her job as the gatekeeper to the House floor as the Calendars Committee chair and as a key fundraiser for Craddick and other Republicans. State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican, is close behind as the 11th most powerful House member after emerging in the past two years as a key player for the leadership team on an array of issues including the state budget, education and transportation as the sponsor of a moratorium on new toll road construction that Governor Rick Perry has championed. She's also a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Lawmakers who made the biggest leaps up the House power scale include Republican State Reps. Dan Gattis of Georgetown, Frank Corte of San Antonio and Jerry Madden of Plano. Gattis jumped from 33rd in 2006 to 14th on this year's House power list as a valuable utility player with key roles in the debate on the budget, health and human services and criminal justice issues. A third-term legislator, Gattis is the treasurer for the Stars Over Texas PAC that's believed to be indirectly controlled by speaker. Corte, who wasn't even on the list in 2006 while away on active duty in Iraq as a Marine Corps Reserves officer, has sailed into the top 20 with a boost from his new job as the House Republican Caucus chairman and the PAC that goes with it. Positioned at number 38 on the power list one year ago, Madden is now one step away from a top 20 ranking as the Corrections Committee chairman who's been leading the Legislature's investigation into the TYC sexual abuse scandal along with his Senate counterpart Whitmire.

Several Democrats have made huge leaps up the House power list as a result of their loyalty to Craddick in the speaker's race in the face of fierce pressure from fellow Democratic members to switch their votes to Pitts. Four Democrats who backed Craddick - State Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Ruth McClendon of San Antonio, Helen Giddings of Dallas and Harold Dutton of Houston - are ranked among the 30 House members with the most clout in 2007. Guillen, a third-term House member, is the new vice-chairman of the Appropriations Committee. McClendon was named Rules & Resolutions Committee chair in the wake of the speaker's race. Democratic State Reps. Kino Flores of Mission and Aaron Peña of Edinburg have also climbed much higher on the ladder of power in the lower chamber this year than they had in previous sessions. Peña landed the job of Criminal Jurisprudence Committee chairman after the dust cleared from the speaker's election.

While Republicans still hold a dozen more House seats than the chamber's minority party, Dunnam and the Democrats have become much more competitive as a result of the seats they picked up and the incumbents they successfully protected at the polls last year. That was evident during the House floor fight on the new state budget when Democrats led the charge for a teacher pay raise amendment that was approved over strenuous objections from the GOP leadership team. But while Democrats have made up a substantial amount of ground since the regular sessions in 2003 and 2005, the higher reaches of the House and Senate power charts are dominated by legislators affiliated with the GOP.

The only House Democrats to make the top 50 after trying to oust Craddick in the speaker's race are State Reps. Garnet Coleman of Houston, Pete Gallego of Alpine and Dunnam. Coleman and Gallego are ranked 35th and 50th respectively.

But 13 Democrats who sided with the Republican incumbent in the speaker's race are higher on the list than they've been before with rankings among the 50 most powerful House members in 2007. The Democrats' newest addition to the top 75 most powerful House members list is Houston State Rep. Rick Noriega, whose stock received a substantial boost when he pushed through a teacher pay raise amendment in the state budget debate.

Beyond scores tied directly to committee assignments, specific legislation, party positions, outside posts and campaign contributions and fundraising, the power rankings' final order reflects the unique qualities of individual members such as leadership ability, natural talent, skills in floor debate, institutional knowledge, behind the scenes influence, issues expertise and other intangibles that cannot be measured but must be considered for a credible assessment of power in the Legislature.

Several conservative House Republicans such as State Reps. Robert Talton of Pasadena, Bryan Hughes of Mineola, Gary Elkins of Houston and Buddy West of Odessa had been considered leadership team players before joining the revolt against Craddick and siding with Pitts on the key test vote. Amid the fallout from the attempted overthrow, Talton, West and Hughes appeared to be punished as much or more for defying the speaker than any of the other Republicans who'd bolted from his camp. Talton lost his post as the Urban Affairs Committee chairman. West was busted from the Energy Resources Committee chairmanship. Hughes was replaced as the vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Craddick let Elkins off more lightly, allowing him to keep his job as the Business & Industry Committee vice chair and his seat on the Calendars Committee. West - like Pitts - dropped off the list completely with his power privileges revoked in the wake of the speaker's race. But Talton has other things going for him that kept him on the power list ahead of more than half the chamber's members - even though he did fall out of the top 20. He has vast institutional knowledge. He's tough - and he's fearless. He's been a major contributor to other candidates and committees - and there are people in his part of the state who would like to see him run for Congress eventually. He's an attorney who may be almost as popular now with trial lawyers who wanted to get rid of Craddick as he has been with social conservatives since he arrived in the House in 1993. Talton is the kind of legislator who will keep finding ways to leave his own unique mark with or without prime committee appointments or other leadership team perks. The same can be said for Hughes - even though he has less experience than Talton and is smoother around the edges. The double-barrel popularity that Hughes enjoys among conservatives and trial lawyers has ensured that he remains on the list of the 75 most powerful House members as well this year.

While no points were added directly for seniority and experience, the importance of those two factors is evident with the fact that no House or Senate freshmen, no second-term senators and only three of 17 House sophomores made the list of the chamber's 75 most powerful members in 2007. Republican State Rep. John Otto of Dayton has been one of the lower chamber's most influential members since emerging as the top House technical tax expert during the debate on school finance in his first legislative session two years ago.

State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, a Waco Republican in his second House term, has had a significant impact this year as a leading critic of TXU's plans to build new coal plants including several within a 45-minute drive of the city where he lives. The only other second-term House member on the power list - Republican State Rep. Jim Jackson of Carrollton - is an exceptional case as a lawmaker who was a member of the Dallas County Commissioners Court for 30 years and serves now on Appropriations and Redistricting Committee and as budget chair on the Public Health Committee as well. Otto and Anderson are ranked 18th and 58th respectively. Jackson is 68th.

The other 39 House members in their first or second terms are still one or two re-election bids away from the kind of power that their more experienced colleagues enjoy now.

Republican State Senators Kevin Eltife of Tyler and Kel Seliger - the two Senate members who are in the midst of their second regular session - have been legislators for three full years since winning special sessions in early 2004. They are both highly talented lawmakers who have star potential and show few if any signs of inexperience. But in an upper chamber where there's been little room for movement at the top of the power hierarchy in recent years, Seliger and Eltife have more dues to pay before they are in position to move into the high echelons of power where some state Senate veterans are found.

Four of the top 20 Texas House members on the list of clout in 2007 are women. There are seven women ranked among the 30 most powerful House members and 10 female representatives in the top 50. Fifteen women are listed among the top 75. All four women members of the Senate are ranked among the 20 most powerful legislators on that side of the building this year. The list of the 75 House members with the most clout includes seven African-Americans and five Hispanics. Across the rotunda, four Hispanic senators and both African-American members of the upper chamber are ranked among the 20 Senate members with the most sway this year.

Legislators in both chambers received points as the authors and sponsors of major legislation, as members of conference committees that hammered out compromise plans on the high-priority measures and as key players in the House and Senate fights on the most pressing issues in this year's regular session, the special session last year and the string of sessions in 2005. Appointments to the conference committees that worked on the state budget, the school finance packages and the legislation that overhauled the protective services and workers compensation systems two years ago are still a reflection of power in the Legislature today.

Points have been awarded this time around for key roles in the debate on a state budget, sex offenders and other issues that lawmakers had on their agendas hearing into the regular session. But points have also been doled out to lawmakers who are playing key roles on issues that have taken the Legislature by surprise such as the Texas Youth Commission sex scandal, the governor's HPV vaccine mandate and the sale of TXU at a time when it had been fighting to build new coal plants in various parts of the state in the face of stiff opposition from environmentalists and others.

The rankings for legislators in 2007 are subject to change as much as needed to reflect developments that unfold as the session progresses over the next two months including appointments to conference committees and other events that alter the power profiles of individual members.

Strength in Numbers: Renegade Republicans
Wield More Sway than Ever in the Texas House

They don't chair powerful committees or sponsor the major bills that pass in today's Texas House. They're not on Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team because they're often in the dog house as far as he's concerned.

The original ABCs - moderate Republican representatives who were willing to back Anybody But Craddick in his first race for speaker more than four years ago - are down in numbers since one lost a bid for re-election last year, one didn't run again and one other converted to the leadership team. Two other Republicans who'd been allies on key issues after entering the House in 2003 and 2005 didn't survive the campaign trail in 2006.

But even with those losses, State Reps. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Pat Haggerty of El Paso, Delwin Jones of Lubbock, Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, Brian McCall of Plano, Tommy Merritt of Longview and Todd Smith of Euless arguably have more clout than ever as a group of renegade Republicans in a chamber that has more Democrats along with several new members who ousted Craddick lieutenants in GOP primary contests last year. That was evident at the start of the regular session when the ABCs were at the heart of a rebellion that had Craddick and his lieutenants running scared until the attempted coup in the speaker's race was thwarted with the help of some Democrats.

The Republicans who've opposed Craddick and the leadership's positions on some major legislation have been excluded from committee chairs and other appointment plums that are worth the most points for the power rankings, which measure individual sway. But they wield substantial clout as a group of members who aren't afraid to challenge the powers that be and are never bowed or intimidated by threats of adverse consequences that they sometimes suffer.

One of the renegade Republicans' longtime allies - State Rep. Tony Goolsby of Dallas - backed Craddick in the speaker's race and was rewarded handsomely with the House Administration Committee chair, the first top-level leadership post he's had during the GOP regime. Goolsby's new station propelled him into the top 40 on the House power list after being unranked last year.

Republicans Toby Goodman, Roy Blake Jr. and Carter Casteel were moderate House members who defied the GOP leadership on certain issues as well before falling short in re-election bids last year. One of the House's least conservative Republican members - Bob Hunter - didn't seek re-election.

The ABCs lost some but won some as well. State Rep. Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican, gambled his job as the Appropriations Committee chairman when he sided with moderate GOP members and Democrats as the alternative choice to Craddick in the speaker's race. While Pitts has a relatively conservative voting record, his vote two years ago for a school finance plan proposed by Democrats proved to be a foreshadowing of his eventual alignment with them in the speaker's race. Several other House Republicans who sided with the Pitts team on a key test vote in the election for speaker will probably be voting with the leadership on most issues as some of the chamber's most conservative members.

While Geren is the only bona fide member of the ABCs on this year's list of the 75 most powerful House members, the fate of major legislation could well be decided in 2007 by the moderate Republicans who've been thorns for the speaker for years.

Copyright 2003-2007 Capitol Inside
Photocopying, printing, or reproducing in any other form in whole or in part is a
violation of federal copyright law and is strictly prohibited without the publisher's
consent. Phone: (512) 917-1697