Paul Bettencourt
Texas Senate MVP
Houston
Republican
Dennis Bonnen
Texas House MVP
Republican
Lake Jackson
Dustin Burrows
Texas House
Republican
Lubbock
Donna Campbell
Texas Senate
New Braunfels
Republican
Dan Huberty
Texas House
Republican
Humble
Jeff Leach
Texas House
Republican
Allen
Jane Nelson
Texas Senate
Republican
Flower Mound
Dan Patrick
Texas Senate
Republican
Houston
Eddie Rodriguez
Texas House
Democrat
Austin
Larry Taylor
Texas Senate
Republican
Friendswood
Senfronia Thompson
Texas House
Democrat
Houston
John Zerwas
Texas House
Republican
Richmond

 

SUPERLATIVES


Greg Bonnen (R)
Texas House
Dawn Buckingham (R)
Texas Senate
Garnet Coleman (D)
Texas House
John Cyrier (R)
Texas House
Mary González (D)
Texas House
Donna Howard (D)
Texas House
Joan Huffman (R)
Texas Senate
Bryan Hughes (R)
Texas Senate
Celia Israel (D)
Texas House
Stephanie Klick (R)
Texas House
Oscar Longoria (D)
Texas House
Joe Moody (D)
Texas House
Tom Oliverson (R)
Texas House
Kel Seliger (R)
Texas Senate
Toni Rose (D)
Texas House
Chris Turner (D)
Texas House
Armando Walle (D)
Texas House
Judith Zaffirini (D)
Texas House

 

BEST FRESHMEN
LEGISLATORS


Keith Bell (R)
Texas House
Brad Buckley (R)
Texas House
Sam Harless (R)
Texas House
Julie Johnson (D)
Texas House
Candy Noble (R)
Texas House
Reggie Smith (R)
Texas House
James Talarico (D)
Texas House
John Turner (D)
Texas House

June 3, 2019

Super Bowl Session Featured Stars in High Stations
and Role Players Who Found Unique Ways to Glisten

Best Team Effort - Right to Love Liberty

A super majority of the biggest stars at the Texas Capitol in 2019 were in position to shine as the chief sponsors on the issues that dominated it - school finance, property taxes and state spending in general.

The 86th regular session would be a stage for historic success or monumental failure for this elite all-Republican group of lawmakers who'd been cast as the chairs of the House and Senate committees that focused on the paramount priorities. But the biennial gathering that the Legislature's top two leaders hailed near the end as the Super Bowl of sessions featured some unlikely heroes on both sides of the aisle as well.

A school finance and tax relief plan price tag that will cost almost $12 billion was the crowning accomplishment for Texas lawmakers during the past five months along with a new two-year state budget that was fashioned as a foundation cornerstone for the big-ticket package.

Beyond the individual performances that are showcased in the Capitol Inside Best of the Texas Legislature all-star team selections for 2019, the session's goals and triumphs were a product of the ruling Republicans' recognition that their reign could be fading into the purple mystic much sooner than they'd anticipated if they failed to go with the flow of a blue wave.that washed through the state last fall.

GOP leaders and legislators were content to leave tea party conservatives to whom many had been catering for years in their wake in favor of a collective transformation from a party that rules from the center stripe more than the right. The net result was a session of unprecedented harmony and bipartisan love at a statehouse where the Republicans worked with Democrats - and more importantly - got along with themselves for the first time since they'd captured majorities on both sides of the pink granite dome.

 

DENNIS BONNEN
Most Valuable Player
Texas House

GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen delivered a performance that would fall somewhere near the border of miraculous and supernatural as the Texas House's first new gavel-slammer in an entire decade. While that might be a slight stretch, it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that the veteran lawmaker from the coastal chemical hub of Brazoria County demonstrated why folks should never underestimate the impossible.

No one thought Bonnen had a chance at winning the first open speaker's race in more than two dozen years because he'd been perceived as a condescending bully by some and a know-it-all by others with a personality that wasn't tailored for popularity contests. But the job that the Lake Jackson banker turned in during his first session as the west wing boss was even more amazing than the way he came out of nowhere to seize the job at the finish line last fall.

No one had questioned Bonnen's vast institutional knowledge, intellect and devotion to the Legislature's lower chamber and public service in general. But the bald and bespectacled legislature who'd joined the House as a 25-year-old 22 years ago had a chance to show that he could read between the lines of a rapidly-shifting political landscape with an eye on the near future and the long term. In a chamber where the Democrats thought they'd had it as good as it gets under Bonnen predecessor Joe Straus, they would have it even better under the new speaker as an ironic product of his undeclared determination to protect a GOP majority that could be in serious danger at the polls next year. Bonnen raised the bar on bipartisan leadership to a level that had been unimaginable level with an uncanny ability to go with the flow of a blue wave that had swept a dozen new Democrats into a House that the minority party can take back with a net-gain of nine seats in 2020.

Bonnen's most incredible feat came when he persuaded his fellow Republicans who'd been waging war on each other in the Straus House that he was doing his best to have their backs beyond the session by being so nice to the Democrats. Bonnen was all but walking on water when he found ways to make allies out of the chamber's most liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in a united pursuit of the relatively liberal goal of school finance reform and the GOP's ongoing search for tax cuts. Bonnen tamed the Democrats while turning the Texas Freedom Caucus that had been a tea party representative haven into a leadership team support group.

While Straus had been content to lead in the face of constant conservative hammering that he simply ignored, Bonnen had a brawler's reputation and natural penchant to fight back with the gloves off. Everyone on both sides of the rotunda knew that he could not be intimidated - and that perception alone eliminated any potential inclination to intimidate like he himself had done so well in the past. Bonnen relied on positive reinforcement to defuse the fight in the Democrats by appointing more of them to high-level committee chairs while convincing hard-line conservatives who'd clashed constantly with Straus that they could be productive legislators if they learned to play team ball. When the time came for the Freedom Caucus crew to make a choice between the new speaker's unity crusade and the hard right outside the building, all but one of them boarded the Bonnen bus and never looked back.

Bonnen put the Senate on notice from day one that the House planned to keep the eye on the paramount priorities of public education funding and property tax relief and would not under any circumstances be distracted by symbolic posturing on measures that would have no practical effect like the bathroom bill. Bonnen adapted his leadership style without the luxury of long-term planning for a Texas political world that's turning purple in a way that he knows he can't stop but can try to slow. Bonnen ran the show with a fashion that inspired trust and camaraderie - and when it became clear that the House believed in him and wanted to follow - it was only a matter of time before Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the more conservative Senate would fall in line.

 

PAUL BETTENCOURT
Most Valuable Player
Texas Senate

The Republicans will owe State Senator Paul Bettencourt an eternal debt of gratitude if the Democrats don't take the Texas House majority at the polls in 2020. While the Houston lawmaker has never served in the lower chamber in Austin, he appeared to save the Republicans across the rotunda from themselves when he broke ranks with the state's three top leaders as the first GOP legislator to express his disdain for a hastily-assembled plan that would have raised the sales tax by a penny to foot the bill for $5 worth of property tax relief.

Bettencourt's opposition to the tax swap was the regular session's second most surprising development behind the actual unveiling of the package by Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen after the biennial gathering of 2019 had entered the second half. But Bettencourt's opinion on the tax reshuffling proposal mattered more than any other legislator's thoughts on the plan possibly could in light of the fact that he's the Property Tax Committee chairman who'd served as the lead Senate sponsor on local levy relief and reform since he arrived in the east wing of the Capitol in early 2015.

Bettencourt's background had made him the perfect fit for such a role as a former tax assessor-collector in Harris County where he's based as a Houston resident. Bettencourt's number one qualification - however - had been the fact that he'd been one of Patrick's closest allies long before either one of them had emerged on the state political landscape. Bettencourt had been a radio personality who'd been widely known as the Tax Man with his own show on the radio station that Patrick owns as the marque on-air celebrity who's a conservative talk show host. Bettencourt was elected to the Senate initially on the same ballot in 2014 on which Patrick appeared in his first race for lieutenant governor. Bettencourt had been the heir apparent in the same district that the current Senate president had represented for eight years as a product of his close ties to Patrick and the seemingly-identical positions they shared on just about every policy issue under the sun.

Bettencourt's personal friendship and longtime association with the lieutenant governor probably made it easier to speak out against the tax swap without as much as fear of retribution that his GOP colleagues could expect if they'd turned against Patrick on the proposal that became the session's most explosive issue for a month. But Bettencourt by the same token had more to lose than committee assignment clout as the current chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus as well. Bettencourt was speaking for the grassroots conservatives who'd come out swinging in ferocious opposition to a sales tax hike at a time when the Legislature was sitting on a $10 billion surplus and planning to spend most of it.

Bettencourt received a gentle slap on the wrist when Patrick appointed him to the conference committee for the session's signature tax measure that he'd authored while naming someone else to chair it. The Bettencourt proposal in Senate Bill 2 is designed to slow the growth of soaring local taxes by slapping new restrictions on the ability of cities, counties and school districts to raises levies that are tied to the values of homes and commercial property. Bettencourt's snubbing of a major sales tax increase might have given SB 2 a boost as a substantial fallback plan for Republicans to brag about back home if they voted against the swap. But the sales tax swap never made it all the way to either floor for a vote after Bettencourt's high-profile thumbs down gave House Republicans sufficient cover to spurn the GOP leadership on a proposal that could have come back to haunt them horribly in re-election campaigns.

 

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