Thursday, June 14, 2007

Best & Worst Texas Legislators and Criminal Justice Policy

I thought about posting my own Best/Worst list today on criminal justice topics to complement the release of Texas Monthly's venerable biennial listing of legislative darts and laurels, but procrastination reduced me to commenting on Paul Burka and Patricia Hart's just-released list of the Best and Worst in the 80th Texas Legislature. See the free media preview including an email discussion about how they made their choices. Here's the list; my comments following the names are an off the cuff evaluation of the choices from the perspective of criminal justice policy:

THE BEST
  • Rafael Anchia, Democrat, Dallas - Maybe in somebody's book. I agree with him on many things, but Anchia has disappointed me this session with his aggressive promotion of penalty enhancements and engaging in ineffably harsh tuff on crime rhetoric that I found unbecoming.
  • Sen. John Carona, Republican, Dallas - Might have gone on the other list for this blogger. He surely proved able at working the process, which the TM folks like in a senator, but his promotion of nine figures in unaccountable border security pork and the unnecessary expansion of wiretapping and law enforcement powers in his border security bills soured his session for me.
  • Byron Cook, Republican, Corsicana - No sense of his criminal justice record beyond a 60% Liberty Index rating. My guess is TM liked his stand against the Craddick regime near the end of the show.
  • Sen. Bob Deuell, Republican, Mesquite - He definitely would have made it onto any Grits best list. Deuell added a wise, calm voice on the Criminal Justice Committee and courageously backed a bill to allow needle exchange that resulted in a pilot in San Antonio. I was disappointed to see him promoting Jessica's Law, but that was really the Lt. Governor's baby.
  • Scott Hochberg, Democrat, Houston - On the Corrections Committee he was a reliable vote, but mainly took leadership from the Chair Jerry Madden. OTOH, Madden did great so that's not such a bad thing, but it would take achievements in other areas for him to make any 'best' list.
  • Lois Kolkhorst, Republican, Brenham - In sessions past Kolkhorst was more active on criminal justice stuff, but this year she was sucked into the bowels of the Appropriations process, and also had a few floor votes on bills that surprised and disappointed me. I like her and generally trust her instincts, I just didn't see much of Rep. Kolkhorst this spring.
  • Jerry Madden, Republican, Plano - Would have topped my best list in the House. He came in with an aggressive plan to revamp the adult probation and prison system, had the TYC scandal dumped in his lap in midstream (and was the coolest head in the room throughout the TYC brouhaha), and still accomplished most of his legislative agenda in a low-key, bipartisan way. Also, the way he led his committee IMO was a participatory model, particularly compared to some of the other criminal justice-related panels.
  • Sen. Steve Ogden, Republican, Bryan - I disagree with Steve Ogden on many things, but I couldn't agree more with TM he deserves to be on the Senate's "best" list for the job he did as Finance Chair. That said, promised new funds for TYC didn't come through (they're relying instead on population reductions to free up funds), and I disagreed with the decision to build new prisons, but that was clearly the Lt. Governor's thing.
  • Sylvester Turner, Democrat, Houston - I couldn't quibble a bit with naming Turner to the "best" list for his record on criminal justice alone, much less his contributions on healthcare and defending utility consumers, but would offer one caveat on a different subject: The moment he took the gavel and accepted Terry Keel's advice to refuse motions from members to vacate the chair, IMO he became complicit in Tom Craddick's flouting of parliamentary rules in ways that I find not just troubling but fundamentally threatening to democracy. Also, what's the deal with Turner, Swinford and others tearing up and crying at the front mike this session? There's no crying in baseball!
  • Sen. Tommy Williams, Republican, The Woodlands - Uh, no thank you.
If he'd successfully kept prisons out of the budget and if he hadn't proposed and passed expansion of local wiretapping powers I might add John Whitmire to the list. The work he and Jerry Madden did together was impressive. But I certainly had moments of disappointment with the Criminal Justice Chairman, too. TM gave Whitmire an "honorable mention," which I think is about right. As for the bottom of the list, here are TM's

THE WORST
  • Lon Burnam, Democrat, Fort Worth - From my perspective Lon had his best session in years, which admittedly is damning with faint praise, but I wish he'd taken the opportunity to kill SB 11 when he had it.
  • Warren Chisum, Republican, Pampa - I sure wish he'd fought harder to keep new prisons out of the budget.
  • Speaker Tom Craddick, Republican, Midland - Hard to argue from a threat to democracy standpoint, but I'll say this for him: Naming Turner and Madden to their posts made a lot of criminal justice reform stuff possible. Even Rep. Terri Hodge thanked the Speaker on the floor in mid-session for Madden's appointment. Plus, a lot of criminal justice reform legislation made it through Calendars this year, even if a couple wound up victimized by delays over leadership fights in the final week. The Speaker's apparent sympathy with much of the Madden/Turner/Whtimire criminal justice agenda has been an underreported aspect of his record.
  • Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Republican - I agree compeletely with this one. It's like he's got some new political consultant who's replaced a smart man's brain with a hackneyed, dated, knee jerk political calculator. Where's the ex-CIA spook who after 9/11 said he wouldn't expand police powers in ways that infringed on civil libeties? I want him back!
  • Sen. Troy Fraser, Republican, Marble Falls - If he'd voted against new prisons on Senate Finance we wouldn't have them. But he did, so we do.
  • Charlie Howard, Republican, Sugar Land - Didn't see much of Charlie this year on my topics, but he scored 60% on Grits Liberty Index.
  • Sen. Eddie Lucio, Democrat, Brownsville - Also not on my radar screen much this year, though I thought his son in the House had a good session.
  • Sen. Dan Patrick, Republican, Houston - Sure, take the easy shot! Just because he was a ham-handed, grandstanding buffoon? Somebody said to me toward the end of session that he was Carlos Truan with a radio show.
  • Gov. Rick Perry, Republican - Don't know if you can judge the Governor properly until after the vetoes, but there's no doubt his new term's off to a rocky start.
  • Debbie Riddle, Republican, Houston - I can see Riddle making the list, especially for pushing such a terrible version of Jessica's Law and also wiretapping expansion. But honestly, I'd have replaced her on the list with Criminal Jurisprudence Chairman Aaron Peña. It was his responsibility as chairman to rein in some of the worst garbage Ms. Riddle kept bringing before the committee, but most of the controversial bills she brought to the 7-2 Democratic committee were voted out unamended. It's hard to blame her for that - from her standpoint she had success, it's just that the system didn't function properly to restrain her.
What do you think of Texas Monthly's picks, and who should have been on the schedule of best or worst legislators who didn't make TM's cut? Let me know your opinions in the comments.

33 comments:

Catonya said...

Estes (Wichita County)
He's not important enough to make the big time lists, but his grandstanding ego keeps him on my worst list.

GulfCoastLeftie said...

Dan Patrick = Carlos Truan with a radio show--I wish I'd said that! People in Nueces County are laughing out loud, and thanking God that "Little Caesar" retired before local talk radio was really popular.

Anonymous said...

Aaron Pena should be on the worst.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Cat, fyi Estes actually was on TM's list, but under the category of "furniture." :)

Anonymous said...

I disagree about Whitmire. He knew all about the West Texas SS scandal in 2005. His hearings this year were the main event in the big cover-up to protect the politicians who did not want the issue coming up in 2005 with an election looming.

RoAN said...

Ya know, it's pretty easy to bash Sen. Patrick. After all, there are few people willing to stand on principle. And when someone does, it rattles the status quo so much that boots find themselves wet. Keep it up....

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It IS pretty easy to bash Dan Patrick. You know why? Because he's ineffective and silly.

Sam Rayburn said that any fool can tear down a house but it takes a carpenter to build one. The Texas Senate is not, has never been an never will be about "standing on principle." (In my mind's eye I imagine a polar bear intrepidly standing on a chunk of ice as it floats out to sea.) Being a legislator is about governing a state that's bigger than many countries, balancing interests, and compromising. That's why I understand John Carona's naming to the best list, even if I disagree with it. But Patrick's tactics weren't just ineffective, they actively damaged the causes he cares about. That's why he deserved inclusion on the list, though as even I mentioned, it's taking an easy shot.

On Whitmire, I've discussed here why I think it's wrong to say he knew "all about" the West Texas scandal in 2005. And I thought some of the TYC grandstanding was over the top and played too much to the media. OTOH, he passed substantive stuff, he was a player and a force to contend with on these topics, more often for good than ill.

RoAN said...

“Compromise is but the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of retaining another--too often ending in the loss of both.” Tyron Edwards

RoAN said...

If you think that the Repubs were right in ostracizing Sen. Patrick, check out the poll on Quorum. I realize this is good news for you but this is what happens when you don't follow your principles. You lose. As, btw, I've said for months. Dems will run Texas in the next session. Your gain, my loss. Sometimes you have to flush to get a clean bowl.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RoAN - There is a distinction to be made between campaign rhetoric and the practice of governance. Politics is the art of compromise, certainly when the Lege must evaluate 6,000 bills in 140 days!

There are too many legitimate, competing interests for an unyielding stance in the legislative process to generate a productive outcome, or indeed any outcome at all. Patrick only gets one vote, and he can't bully the other 30 into voting his way. He must convince them, and part of how that is done is to listen to their concerns and compromise to accomodate them.

You may be right the GOP will lose the House next time, but for most of my issues party labels don't matter much. Criminal justice reform bills were able to pass in the current environment, and I'd hope (but can't be sure) that'd continue in a Dem-led House.

The best legislators never refuse to take half a loaf to get an idea through the process. Patrick insists on a truckload full of loaves and partial ownership of the bakery before he will agree to sit down and talk, and that approach will make him a lonely figure indeed in the halls of the capitol. best,

Catonya said...

Made me laugh at first.

then shake my head in disgust.

Taylor said...

Agreed. Pena did a terrible job and should have made the list.

RoAN said...

“Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.” G.K. Chesterton

Anonymous said...

I was at a meeting of a political club the other day and there was a talk by one of the local state reps reporting on the session. It was said that Aaron Pena was not somebody to be trusted, since in the past he has often said he was going to do one thing and then did another.

That sounds like what he did on the Innocence Commission. He said he voted for it, when really he killed it.

I guess he was too young for Vietnam, but I can imagine him telling the media he had to burn the village to save it.

RoAN said...

Anonymous, here's the deal. Grits and others don't like Sen. Patrick because he told the people in his district "if you vote for me, I'm going to do a,b,c even if I fail". And then he had the cajones to actually do it. Imagine that. A politician actually doing what he said he was going to do. Even if it means upsetting the status quo. What a unique thought.

And if anyone doesn't think he actually said that, go back and read the freaking campaign literature.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RoAN, that's delusional!

Patrick didn't shake up the status quo - at all! The stunt with the budget - not participating in the process then claiming to have billions in cuts AFTER the vote is overr - was pure grandstanding. It made no one nervous and shook no one up at all. It just make Dan Patrick look like a neophyte and a fool. His constituents were ill-served by his antics, but if all you want is someone who runs their mouth and accomplishes nothing, you've definitely found your guy.

As for your Chesterton quote, Patrick chose no loaf at all - pray tell, where does that fit into his maxim?

Anonymous said...

In order for Patrick to survive, he'll have to learn to play the game. That's just the way it is. When all cooperate, then everyone gets a piece of the pie. People can still stand on their principles but to pass legislation means the ability get along. In the end, there's a little something for everyone. That's politics in criminal justice. It ain't going away.

Anonymous said...

Patrick is the Paul Moreno of the right, but with a radio show and a Senator's ability to grand stand.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, with the ability to stand, period. But I take your point. Patrick also has better hair than either Moreno or Truan, FWIW. Pero no habla Español! best,

Anonymous said...

TYC did follow up with detailed information to the governor's office and to key members of the legislature. Mr. Whitmire was outraged that state employees were wasting state time by digging up old e-mails. All this does not excuse the few really guilty parties at TYC, especially the ones who tried to engineer a cover-up. Instead of firing, and possibly prosecuting those few that were involved, Mr. Whitmire pounded on the table and demanded to see more heads roll. Result - most of the best leaders at TYC were forced to resign or were terminated. They were replaced by folks from TDCJ. Now, those folks know a lot about how to rehabilitate juveniles! Additinally, he and Mr. Hinojosa accepted at face value the claims made by convicted sex offenders, without even checking the results of investigations done by their own LEO investigators.

Anonymous said...

Rep. Pena should of been one of the best! Pena brought much needed funds to the Rio Grande area. Actually, the Valley(Poorest area in the NATION) saw more money than in the history of Texas Leg. The people of the Valley demanded it from their legislators and they made a tough choice and God blessed us for their decisions.

Valley Chambers said...

Why did it take a Republican Speaker to see the desperate and urgent need of the people of the Valley? It's a sad day when people criticize legislators for doing the will of their constituents.

I second the motion for Rep. Pena to be on the Best Texas Legislators list!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm glad he got more pork for his district, but as for Peña's record as Criminal Jurisprudence Chair, see the discussion here.

RGV voters said...

This is the same man that walked into an airport with a loaded gun! Then he tried to dissolve the DPS for pulling him over for illegal tint. This man is the definition of mafia style politics.

He strong arms municipalities in his district to give his "girlfriends" lobbying jobs on tax payer’s expense.

Run Cortez Run!

Come on Burka you can do better than that.

Anonymous said...

YOU REALLY ARE A BUNCH OF SHITS FOR BREAKFAST!

WHY DON'T YOU QUESTION THE LEGISLATORS THAT DIDN'T VOTE FOR THE INNOCENCE COMMISSION OR EVEN SHOW UP TO WORK!

RGV VOTERS said...

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa wasn't on the WORST list?

This is the same man that walked into an airport with a loaded gun! Then he tried to dissolve the DPS for pulling him over for illegal tint. This man is the definition of mafia style politics.

He strong arms municipalities in his district to give his "girlfriends" lobbying jobs on tax payer’s expense.

Come on Burka you can do better than that.

Anonymous said...

shits for breakfast...HAHAHAHA

Exactly what this site is!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You don't do Rep. Peña any favors portraying yourself as his supporter and resorting to anonymous name calling and yelling (the all caps schtick). Also, signing in with more than one handle immediately after your last comment doesn't trick people into thinking there's more than one of you. Grow up. I've said many times the entire committee did poorly. But the chairman did, too. And it's true.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 4:50 your comment gives you away ! You must be one of the legislators on the worst list. Ha,ha,ha!

Anonymous said...

How did Senator Deuell get on the best list ? A medical doctor who supports the death penalty for non-death cases?? Actually, the death penalty period ! Let me see is that the hippocratic oath or the hypocritic oath ?

Anonymous said...

Hinojosa and Whitmire should have both topped the 'worst' list. Hinojosa is nothing more than a crook who expects special treatment because he is a senator and Whitmire is just a rude, callous jerk. Both of them have served way beyond their 'expiration date' and I for one will be working very hard to see they are both outsted the next election. Hell, Hinojosa was one of the most excited when the photo id for voting legislation died...hell we all know babied and dead folks vote in the valley:)

Anonymous said...

Follow this link for the latest on Whitmire!

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/06/21/21whitmire.html

Anonymous said...

I think Sen Whitmire and Rep Pena are the greatest for "fixing" TYC so well. What a bunch of smoke and mirrors! The latest good news (for those who wish to smuggle contraband into TYC units, anyhow) is the K-9 Officers were notified today that they were no longer commissioned, and they need to turn in their badges! Seems the lege "neglected" to include them in the list of commissioned officers. Most of them are leaving to go back to Police depts. Thank you, Rep Pena for "fixing" TYC!