December 20, 2012

Fantasy Legislature

Majority Party Would Dominate Draft with Lawmakers in High Stations
Going First in Selection Pool for Leagues with Standard Scoring System

Fantasy Politics


You know the Texas Legislature will be coming to town soon because the fantasy football playoffs are getting under way later this week.

A simplified statistical analysis suggest that as many as three million Texans compete in fantasy football leagues out of an estimated 35 million who play this game nationwide with NFL players they drafted, snagged as free agents, picked up off the waiver wire or acquired in trades. Some of us have more than one NFL team and field fantasy basketball and baseball squads as well. You can sign up for fantasy hockey, golf, soccer, college football, NASCAR and all sorts of spinoff games on the big web sites like ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, and countless others online. There are psychiatrists and psychologists who specialize in treating fantasy sports addicts if your obsession begins to interfere with the more important things in your life like work and family.

But if you're a political junkie who has discovered the joy of fantasy football and other sports without letting it ruin your life, it might be fun to imagine what it would be like to play fantasy Texas Legislature. This isn't a novel idea considering - a web site called Fantasy Politics popped up earlier this year as a way to duke it out at the national level in the second most popular contact sports behind football itself. But no one to our knowledge has developed the software at this point to play legislative fantasy at the state level. So here's an idea of how it could be structured complete with a hypothetical team for 2013 if we had that ability.


A standard league would have eight teams with two state senators and seven House members on each team. Each team would have to have a minimum of two House freshmen and at least two House members from one political party or the other. Each team would have to have either a Republican and Democratic senator or one member from either party and one freshman. A third senator can be added as a utility player as long as he or she is from a different political party from the other two Senate members on a particular team. The House speaker and lieutenant governor would not be eligible.


A points system could be based on five basic stats including committee assignments, election results, campaign fundraising and social media popularity. The most important statistical category for weighted scoring purposes would be legislation - the number of bills filed, the priority nature of bills authored and co-sponsored, how far they progress in the process, votes in committee and on the floor and whether they eventually pass both chambers and go to the governor. Party leadership posts would be worth points as well.

Rotisserie scoring might be the easiest way to go at first with the option to switch to Head-to-Head competition in which one team plays another each week. Rotisserie is fantasy talk for leagues with everyone competing against everyone with running totals from start to finish. The 2013 season would end on June 16 - the last day Governor Rick Perry can sign bills into law or veto them.

The Draft

For hypothetical instructional purposes, this columnist will be the owner-manager for all eight teams in a pre-session draft that might look something like this below. Draft order could be determined by picking numbers out of a hat. The draft is based on the re-election of House Speaker Joe Straus in the leadership election on the opening day of the regular session in January. The draft selections would change dramatically in the event of a victory in the speaker's race by the only current challenger, Republican State Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, or anyone else besides the incumbent himself.

The first round picks are an elite cross-section of GOP lawmakers who wield immense amounts of clout in a variety of ways. State Senator Tommy Williams of The Woodlands and State Rep. Jim Pitts of Waxahachie are the equivalent of the NBA's Kevin Durant and LeBron James when it comes to fantasy lawmaking as the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committees respectively. Pitts and three other round one selections - Republican State Reps. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Byron Cook of Corsicana - are three of Straus' highest-ranking lieutenants as the leaders of the Calendars Committee, Administration Committee and State Affairs Committee respectively. Republican State Senators Robert Duncan of Lubbock and Jane Nelson of Lewisville would be scooped up in a fantasy Legislature draft in the opening round as well as the respective chairs of the State Affairs Committee and the Health & Human Services Committee in the Capitol's east wing. State Senator John Carona, a Dallas Republican who heads the Business & Commerce Committee, is a first round choice in the number eight spot more as a result of aggressive style and subsequent production than the magnitude of sway that his actual position of leadership bestows.

In a legislative arena that Republicans have controlled exclusively for almost 10 years, no Democrats were selected in the fantasy draft until State Senators Judith Zaffirini of Laredo and John Whitmire of Houston were plucked up with the top two picks in round three. Whitmire is the Senate's longest-serving member - and he's chaired the Criminal Justice Committee east of the rotunda since Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst took over as the chamber's presiding officer in 2003. Zaffirini, who ranks second in Senate seniority, appeared to lose some clout when Dewhurst shifted her from the Higher Education Committee chair to the top spot on the Government Organization Committee this fall. But Zaffirini has been the Legislature's hardest working member and one of its most skilled tacticians - and she'd be a highly valuable fantasy player as someone who'll find ways to maximize her power while leading a panel that oversees sunset legislation that keeps state agencies in business or shuts them down.

The freshmen House members that each team must have would go in the final two rounds of the draft as a consequence of the fact that first-time lawmakers simply don't get the opportunity to wield significant influence in obvious ways. Some teams would be forced to draft Democrats in the last round over Republicans they might prefer to stay in line with the partisan player limitations.

Some House Republicans who might not be chosen if Straus is still speaker could expect to go high if the teams were disbanded and a new draft conducted in the event of a change in the speaker's office. State Rep. David Simpson - a Longview Republican who took on the establishment on a number of key issues during his first session two years ago - is a prime example of a legislator whose value would soar if Hughes or another conservative knocked Straus off the dais in the leadership election next month.

Fantasy Legislature - like the other professional sports with fantasy competition - would have its fair share of surprises and sleepers who make a significant splash after going undrafted and picked up subsequently as free agents or waiver wire selections. For now - however - here is our first stab at a mock draft for the regular legislative session that convenes in Austin on January 8.

Team 1

Round 1: Tommy Williams (Senate R)
Round 2: Jim Keffer (House R)
Round 3: Judith Zaffirini (Senate D)
Round 4: John Smithee (House R)
Round 5: Garnet Coleman (House D)
Round 6: Helen Giddings (House D)
Round 7: Doug Miller (House R)
Round 8: Jason Villalba (House R)
Round 9: J.D. Sheffield (House R)

Team 2

Round 1: Jim Pitts (House R)
Round 2: Dan Patrick (Senate R)
Round 3: John Whitmire (Senate D)
Round 4: Glenn Hegar (Senate R)
Round 5: Susan King (House R)
Round 6: Bill Callegari (House R)
Round 7: Phil King (House R)
Round 8: Bennett Ratliff (House R)
Round 9: Mary Ann Perez (House D)

Team 3

Round 1: Robert Duncan (Senate R)
Round 2: Harvey Hilderbran (House R)
Round 3: Brandon Creighton (House R)
Round 4: Royce West (Senate D)
Round 5: Diane Patrick (House R)
Round 6: Rene Oliveira (House D)
Round 7: John Davis (House R)
Round 8: Greg Bonnen (House R)
Round 9: Giovanni Capriglione (House R)

Team 4

Round 1: Todd Hunter (House R)
Round 2: John Zerwas (House R)
Round 3: Robert Nichols (Senate R)
Round 4: Sylvester Turner (House D)
Round 5: Larry Taylor (Senate R)
Round 6: Dan Flynn (House R)
Round 7: Wayne Smith (House R)
Round 8: Chris Paddie (House R)
Round 9: Justin Rodriguez (House D)

Team 5

Round 1: Jane Nelson (Senate R)
Round 2: Jimmie Don Aycock (House R)
Round 3: Bob Deuell (Senate R)
Round 4: Leticia Van de Putte (Senate D)
Round 5: Craig Eiland (House D)
Round 6: Ruth McClendon (House D)
Round 7: Linda Harper-Brown (House R)
Round 8: Trent Ashby (House R)
Round 9: Travis Clardy (House R)

Team 6

Round 1: Charlie Geren (House R)
Round 2: Kel Seliger (Senate R)
Round 3: Larry Phillips (House R)
Round 4: Senfronia Thompson (House D)
Round 5: Ken Paxton (Senate R)
Round 6: Harold Dutton (House D)
Round 7: Dan Huberty (House R)
Round 8: Cecil Bell (House R)
Round 9: Poncho Nevárez (House D)

Team 7

Round 1: Byron Cook (House R)
Round 2: John Otto (House R)
Round 3: Dennis Bonnen (House R)
Round 4: Craig Estes (Senate R)
Round 5: Charles Schwertner (Senate R)
Round 6: Jodie Laubenberg (House R)
Round 7: Lyle Larson (House R)
Round 8: Kyle Kacal (House R)
Round 9: Justin Rodriguez (House D)

Team 8

Round 1: John Carona (Senate R)
Round 2: Drew Darby (House R)
Round 3: Patricia Harless (House R)
Round 4: Allan Ritter (House R)
Round 5: Kelly Hancock (Senate R)
Round 6: Jim Murphy (House R)
Round 7: Tan Parker (House R)
Round 8: Ken King (House R)
Round 9: Gene Wu (House D)

With the team player restrictions in effect, some Republicans who might have more scoring potential were left off to make room for Democrats that were necessary to keep teams in compliance. Some state lawmakers who would be drafted might have been omitted while some on the list would probably be drafted higher or lower. But the list is simply a hypothetical example of how a draft could shape up in the Fantasy Texas Legislature competition if we had the computer program up and running in the next month.

Mike Hailey's column appears regularly in Capitol Inside



Mike Hailey presents state politics with a personal touch. He's the only Texas Capitol journalist who's been to the dark side and back - having worked for two major newspaper bureaus before signing on as press secretary for Bob Bullock - the most powerful and legendary political leader of his time in the state. Hailey's Comment, which is published in Capitol Inside on a regular basis, is a direct reflection of that experience.

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