Friday, December 07, 2007

2007 Texan of the Year: Silver Stars

Since 2005, the Texas Progressive Alliance has named a "Texan of the Year" to give recognition to a worthy Texan who has made a significant contribution to the world of politics or the progressive cause.

For our third annual TOY Award, the TPA elected to not only fete one Texan -- the one who contributed the most to the progressive movement in 2007 -- but also recognize others whose contributions were important to the progressive cause and worthy of recognition.

The Texan of the Year will be announced on December 14. Between now and then, the Alliance will release its list of Texans who made contributions we believe also worthwhile. This begins today with the announcement of the TPA's Silver Stars (and next Monday, four additional "Gold Stars" will be named, followed by the TOY on Friday).

Without further ado, here are the 2007 Texas Progressive Alliance Silver Stars (in alphabetical order):

Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski. It has been said that persistence is as much a virtue as is patience. Inasmuch as that is so, it is also true that persistence pays off. In the case of Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski, persistence also saved thousands of Texas children from a certain hell at the Texas Youth Commission. Beginning in 2005, Burzynski investigated allegations of sexual misconduct in Texas' juvenile prison system. He was rebuffed by state authorities, local prosecutors, and even the United States Department of Justice. In spite of these roadblocks, Burzynski continued to press his case -- investigating, making noise, not letting go, and never taking 'no' for an answer. The end result? He broke open one of the largest criminal justice scandals in Texas history and brought forward a flood of legislative reforms. For this and more, the Texas Progressive Alliance is pleased to confer upon Ranger Brian Burzynski a 2007 Texas Progressive Alliance Silver Star.

Hank Gilbert. Though Gilbert's race for agriculture commissioner ended last November, he also persisted. During his 2006 campaign Gilbert promised Texans that -- win or lose -- he would continue to fight against toll roads, mandatory animal ID legislation, and international corporations that threatened the citizens of Texas. Gilbert organized a Texas Independence Day march on Austin. Working with farmers, ranchers, Democratic activists, and disillusioned landowners, he brought nearly 1,000 people to testify against the Trans-Texas Corridor at a session of the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security the day before the march. Thousands more Texans showed up the next day to join the public protest. Gilbert has been instrumental in forming a statewide umbrella organization of anti-toll road groups to continue the battle against toll-enabling legislation. As a director for Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, he continues to travel the state and nation speaking out against the takeover of taxpayer-funded infrastructure by private interests. For this and more, the Texas Progressive Alliance proudly names Hank Gilbert recipient of a 2007 Texas Progressive Alliance Silver Star.

Congressman Ciro Rodriguez. In 2006, Rodriguez was the "comeback kid" of Texas politics, winning a seat in Congress after a runoff about the time the Texan of the Year for 2006 was announced. This year, Rodriguez took office as part of the first Democratic Congress in nearly a generation and has served his San Antonio-based district honorably. His race is considered one of national Republicans' top targets, although Rodriguez's constituent services and his support from Democratic leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi will no doubt help him retain the district.

Texas Bloggers who made a difference. For the first time Texas bloggers determined that some of their own were worthy of special recognition for their work during 2007: John Cobarruvias (Bay Area Houston Blog); Vince Leibowitz (Capitol Annex); Edmundo "Xicano Power" Rocha (XicanoPwr); and Sharon Wilson (TxSharon of BlueDaze). A note on each blogger:
John Cobarruvias almost single-handedly changed the way Texas legislators use and report their campaign/officeholder expenses. Because he held their feet to the fire with his "Spending Campaign Cash" series, organizing a group of volunteers to file complaints against offending legislators and urging media to report on spending abuses, legislators have cleaned up their acts. The Texas Ethics Commission has issued written reminders to legislators about the very problems with reporting expenses that Cobarruvias uncovered.

Vince Leibowitz. As the 80th Session of the Texas Legislature ended in turmoil -- with parliamentarians resigning, legislators walking out, and two stooges of Tom Craddick on the dais as officers of the Texas House, Leibowitz decided that the full story of those final days wasn't being told and started digging. Through public information requests, he uncovered a sheaf of documents from Craddick's office that helped piece together exactly what happened in those final hours. No mainstream media outlet did better reporting, and Leibowitz's work broke new ground and proved that Craddick's actions were the premeditated acts of a Speaker on the brink.

Edmundo Rocha. Blending heavy-handed social critiques, local and national politics, and a heaping dose of common sense in his blog, Rocha tackles heavy topics like immigration, teenage pregnancy, racial and gender politics and backs it up with a unique style and spirit. With a loyal and unwavering audience (his Texan of the Year nomination, in fact, was suggested in the comments of a blog by one of Edmundo's readers), Rocha has rapidly become one of the state's most prominent Latino bloggers. No issue is too tough and none taboo for this blogger.

Sharon Wilson. Most Texans don't know what the Texas Railroad Commission is or does. In 2007, one Texas blogger changed that. Wilson's reporting on the injection well drilling in the Barnett Shale region and its impact on the water quality and the environment in Wise County and surrounding areas has been invaluable in bringing wider attention to the dangers this practice poses across the state. Wilson has nearly single-handedly stood up to large oil companies and made the companies and state agencies -- including the Texas Railroad Commission -- take notice. Relentless in her drive to educate the public and elected officials to the damage being done to the Texas environment, Wilson's investigative reporting and blogging is worthy of greater recognition.

Texas Legislative Study Group. The policy clearinghouse for progressives, the Texas Legislative Study Group is full of unsung heroes. Helping legislators keep up with the more than 50 bills that come up each day in the Texas House, the TLSG and its policy analysts could be considered the most important behind-the-scenes players in the legislative process when it comes to safeguarding progressive principles. Legislators carry their reports around on the House floor like bibles. Their arguments against the appropriations bill, some versions of Jessica's Law, and the Castle Doctrine were masterful. Also worthy of recognition is that the brilliant minds behind the work of the TLSG aren't aged policy veterans, but rather among the best minds of more recent generations, "Generation X" in particular. The men and women who toil at the TLSG are indeed those who will shape Texas public policy for generations to come.

TexBlog PAC
. Started by just a handful of Texas progressive bloggers, TexBlog PAC has harnessed the energy of the online community. In a state with one of the largest netroots communities in America -- and the most vibrant progressive blogosphere, TexBlog PAC is poised to build on victories bloggers helped happen in 2004 and 2006. Having already raised over $10,000 in its initial months, the PAC will play a key role for Democrats as they take back the House in 2008.

David Van Os. Following his defeat in the 2006 Attorney General's race, Van Os made good on his promise to "keep fighting 'em on the ice." From aiding groups like TURF in their battle against the private takeover of government infrastructure, to helping workers who were intimidated when nooses started showing up in their workplace (securing the removal of both the noose and the supervisor), Van Os never stopped fighting for working Texans. In addition, from musicians to probation officers to non-profit employees, Van Os has continued his life's work on behalf of the union laborers of Texas.

State representative Mike Villarreal
. In 2003, many were ready to write Villarreal's political obituary. Fast forward to 2007, and Villarreal has become one of the progressive leaders in the Texas House. Authoring legislation that would have created contribution limits for political candidates and an independent redistricting commission, Villarreal took a lead with these progressive issues. In addition, Villarreal led on GLBT rights by authoring HB 900, which would have provided protections from discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression for the GLBT community. These efforts, coupled with the compromise he sought to proffer when Republicans tried to take over the House and suspend the constitutional provision concerning the consideration of legislation early in the session, make Villarreal worthy of recognition.

Join us in expressing your thanks and congratulations to the Silver Stars of the Texas Progressive Alliance.

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