From Capitol Inside:
Most Valuable Freshman
State Senator Paul Bettencourt may have been the most politically seasoned freshman lawmaker ever in Texas after he was elected last fall to a seat in a Houston-area district that current Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had represented for eight years. A longtime GOP activist who’d served for a decade as the Harris County tax assessor-collector, Bettencourt seemed to make a seamless transition to the Legislature after a six-year hiatus in the private sector as a tax consultant. Bettencourt was the only one of four rookie Senate Republicans who’d ever held an elected office before taking the oath in January – and the nature of his specific experience made it possible to hit the ground running the moment he arrived at a Capitol where tax cuts would be the number one issue for the the next 140 days.
Bettencourt had another inherent advantage as one of Patrick’s oldest and dearest friends and political confidants – and he capitalized on every advantage during a regular session that would have been stellar by most veteran legislator standards. Bettencourt took the initial lead on the upper chamber’s tax relief plan in a way that gave Senate leaders an opportunity to see who would and wouldn’t salute. After deferring to a more experienced colleague on the tax package authorship, Bettencourt continued to have an instrumental role on a plan that featured reductions in property taxes as a major component. Bettencourt had been tailor-made for the job as a former local official whose guiding mission had finding ways to control ad valorem levies that are the lifeblood for local government and public schools. Bettencourt served as the chief Senate sponsor on 25 bills that the Legislature approved this year – three times the combined number that the chamber’s other three true freshmen passed in their legislative debuts.
Bettencourt proved to be a successful guide on bills that will boost local government transparency, stem cell research and the ability of patients who are terminally ill to be treated with experimental medications that haven’t been federally approved yet. Bettencourt passed a bill that will repeal an obsolete inheritance tax and another that will give broadcasters a $6 million break on state franchise taxes. But Bettencourt also dared to tread where most Republicans wouldn’t want to go as the sponsor of a measure that will force specific-purpose committees to report money they raise and spend in school bond fights to the state for the first time. That piece of legislation happened to be opposed by conservatives who’d helped elect Burton including activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and his allies at Empower Texans. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s so nice to have good friends in high places like the Senate president and reigning Texas tea party king himself.