Popular wit has us believe there usually isn’t much difference between candidates. It’s sometimes true, but not too often. That became apparent this week as we took at look at the voting records of freshmen legislators compared to the lawmakers they replaced. The impact is striking.

First, need to thank TFR’s operations director, Daniel Greer, for crunching, shifting and sorting the data to make these comparisons.

Party Switching
The most improved House district was 17, which includes such cities as Caldwell, Bastrop and Columbus. The former legislator, Robby Cook, was a self-described “conservative” Democrat who earned a 46.67% on the 2007 Fiscal Responsibility Index (70% is passing). He didn’t seek re-election and the seat is now held by Tim Kleinschmidt. His 2009 rating is a 91.67% — that’s a 45-point jump.

Another example is District 32, essentially north Corpus Christi. In 2007 the district was represented by Democratic Party golden-boy Juan Garcia, a college classmate of Barack Obama. He rated a 37.5% on our measure. Garcia was defeated in November 2008 by Republican Todd Hunter, who had previously served as a Democrat in the same seat. Hunter improved on Garcia’s record by 33.9 points — to a 71%.

Going in the other direction look at House District 96. In 2007 the Fort Worth area seat was represented by Republican Bill Zedler, who earned a 100% rating on our Index. Zedler was defeated in 2008’s general election and replaced by Democrat Chris Turner, who rating a 28.57% on this year’s Index. That’s a fall of 71.4 points.

Party Plays
But even party primaries show marked differences in scores.

Look at Odessa’s House District 81. In a hotly contested Republican primary, incumbent Buddy West lost to Tryon Lewis. West rated a 71.4% in 2007; Lewis this year earned an 85.7 – a 14-point rise in representation.

Sometimes good changes happen without a contest, as was the case in Districts 29 (Houston area) and 112 (north Dallas County) were represented by Republicans in both 2007 and 2009. But decidedly different kinds of Republicans.

District 29 had been represented by Mike O’Day in 2007, who rated a 69.23%. He was replaced by Randy Weber, who earned a 95.83 rating this year. That’s a 26-point improvement. The 112 seat was held in 2007 by Fred Hill, who rated a 60% on our Index. In 2009, the legislator from 112 is Angie Chen Button, who earned an 85.7% rating — a 25.7 point jump.

On the other side of the aisle we find Democratic improvements, as well. House District 146 (Houston) was represented in 2007 by Boris Miles, who rated a 21.4% on our Index then. The representative in 2009 is Al Edwards, who earned a 42.8 — which is a 21-point jump. Looking at the fiercely contested Corpus Christi seat, HD43, we find that the 2007 Index rated Juan Escobar at 28.5%. He was defeated by Tara Rios Ybarra, who this Session rated 9 points higher — at a 38%.

Get Voting
In fact, of the 22 freshmen in this 2009 legislative session, we only found three districts in which the new representative didn’t have a substantially better or worse score than their predecessor.

Perhaps the worst enemies people of principle face are cynicism and apathy. They led in the same direction. For example, when we buy into “throw them all out” game, let’s be sure we’re not going from moderately decent to strikingly worse. Similarly, we have to resist the urge to “keep the devil we know” not realizing a taxpayer angel is staring us in the face.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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