nyse-paul-sellsSmith helps Texans start undressing Burka’s best/worst list

June 27, 2011 | Articles

Evan Smith’s interview of Paul Burka about Burka’s “Best/Worst Lege List” was entertaining and informative.

First,  although his list is obviously moderate/liberal, and very anti-conservative, Burka’s real agenda appears to be to operate in the king’s court. His political slant simply mirrors those in power.

Those in power now are the moderate, crony capitalist “business conservatives,” who tend to be social liberals or social conservative impostors. They campaign and govern differently so they need journalistic cover: hence the demand for court journalists like Burka.

In the interview, Burka used the standard moderate line about “process” being all-important. It’s a clever way to privilege those in leadership over those outside leadership, since bucking leadership is by its nature confrontational. Of course those in power can act as smooth as glass; it’s their agenda everyone has to respond to! That’s like judging kids playing king of the hill based on who is running around the least. The king, of course.

Another spin Burka puts on this is that he’s all for “leaders,” whatever their politics. This is a dignified way of saying “I’m for power.”  Smith asked “So, if an African dictator killed his people efficiently and within the rules, you would put that person on the best list?” Burka replied without hesitation, “At the top.”

Now, this question and answer were obviously said in jest, but it was still good for a laugh that Burka's pro-power instincts weren't even fazed by the murderous dictator hypothetical.

In fact, as Burka and Blakeslee explained without irony, in 1987 and this year one party was left out of the worst list entirely because they didn’t have enough power. Evidently, “best” means good soldiers from the group in charge (“the leaders”) and “worst” means the biggest threats to the group in charge, which this year and in 1987 were all from one party. It’s good they cleared that up.

Even Burka’s insistence that his list is all about “process” was shown to be phony on its face.

For example, Smith asked why Wendy Davis wasn’t punished for single-handedly forcing a special session and killing the extremely important fiscal matters bill. After all, Arlene Wolgemuth was given “worst of the worst” in 1997 for calling a point of order that killed 52 bills. (Actually, Wolgemuth outfoxed Speaker Laney with her 1997 maneuver. A bill to require parental notification for abortions was the genesis of the entire controversy and it passed the next session due to the publicity Wolgemuth got Laney to create for it in 1997.)

Blakeslee, clearly unprepared to defend the alleged “process-only” nature of the list, answered that Davis was left off because the (drum roll, please) outcomeof her maneuver wasn’t yet known. Outcome?

Blakeslee went on to explain that Davis’s filibuster was designed to make it easier for teachers to exert pressure on the session during the summer vacation, so they could get a more favorable budgetary outcome – that is, more money. He added that the day they went to press she was looking “pretty smart” because the Howard amendment had passed. He then acknowledged that it has since become unlikely to pass.

Now, if that’s not outcome-based, nothing is. It wasn’t merely outcome-based, it was process-be-damned, since she abused process to make it happen. Blakeslee and Burka need to get their stories straight.

As an aside, Burka erroneously claimed he put Wolgemuth on the best list in 1999 after making her “worst of the worst” in 1997, in what looked a lot like an attempt to punish her pro-life legislative boldness (though Burka would surely call it 100% process-based). In fact, he put her on the worst list again in 1999, the year parental notification finally passed thanks to her. Not until she won re-election again in 2001, after two cycles of abuse from Burka for pro-life staesmanship, did he put her on a best list. It appears Burka started liking her when she started looking strong, when he saw she wasn’t going to get beaten over her boldness.

Later, Burka expressed disappointment in Straus. As you might have guessed, Straus committed Burka's cardinal sin this session: he lost power. The same was true for Dewhurst.

At various points in the interview Burka positively mentioned David Simpson, Van Taylor, and Jim Landtroop. As was pointed out in Daniel Greer’s post earlier this week, these three are likely leaders should the conservative insurgency in the House ascend to leadership.

Burka’s behavior is like that of day traders, who open a position in a stock, increase it as the stock starts looking better, and reduce it as the stock starts looking worse. Burka is reducing his massive position in Straus and seems to have opened up some small positions in a few rising conservative stars.

It was also interesting that decades into the existence of this list, Smith (a longtime editor of the list) had to ask such a basic question about the nature of it –“ is the list about process or outcomes?”

Burka has had it way to good for way too long. He’s had the most widely read legislative report card, and make no mistake, that’s what his list is. He’s had credit for his list being very serious and “criteria-based,” only nobody knows what those criteria are. What a deal!

Who wouldn’t love to direct public opinion on legislators, get credit for having objective and scientific analysis, but keep anyone from actually knowing what the basis for the judgments are, including your longtime editor?!

It’s good for Texans that Burka is having to start defining his list. It's a good sign his list has finally jumped the shark.

Weston Hicks

Weston Hicks researches and writes about associations in the Texas political realm, media choices, and political strategy. He has a B.A. in History from the University of Texas at El Paso and a J.D. from University of Texas School of Law. He enjoys spending time with wife and five children, reading, and playing sports outide. You can reach him at [email protected]