Reader-Recommended State Legislators to Watch

Readers recommended their own up-and-coming state legislators in this third legislators-to-watch list.
by | July 19, 2011

Recently, we offered a pair of lists -- one of Republicans and one of Democrats -- comprised of players to watch in the nation's state legislatures. We assembled this list by seeking nominations from our network of sources in the states, as well as national experts on state legislatures.

We acknowledged that no such list would be comprehensive, and encouraged readers to nominate their own choices. In this article, we present five additional reader-recommended names.

As with the two previous lists, we assumed that ambition was a given. We wanted to feature politicians with a long future, particularly with the possibility of winning higher office at the state or federal level. We looked for leadership qualities, demonstrated either through formal leadership posts or service in junior positions where a legislator showed unusual initiative. The ability to strike alliances across party lines was a plus, as was a record of leading his or her party to noteworthy gains. We gave special weight to those who have a compelling personal story to tell.

Here are the five new players to watch:

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, Democrat

Democrats in the Texas Legislature lost significant ground in the 2010 elections. Davis, who represents Fort Worth, used the limited tools available to her to spectacular results. Hours before this year's session was to end, Davis filibustered a bill that included $4 billion in school cuts. That forced GOP Gov. Rick Perry -- a potential presidential candidate -- to call a special session.

"Since the moment she stepped off the floor, supportive calls from all over the country flooded in, including lots of, 'Where can I send the check?'" says Genevieve Van Cleve, the deputy political director of Annie's List, a Texas-based group that recruits progressive women to run for office.

The Texas Tribune described Davis as a "petite, eloquent and seemingly fearless political firecracker." By age 19, Davis, whose mother had only a sixth grade education, was already divorced, had a baby and was living in a trailer park. Still, she managed to graduate first in her class from Texas Christian University, and then attended Harvard Law School. She served five terms on the Fort Worth City Council before winning a state Senate seat in 2008. Redistricting threatens her future viability in the Senate, but some speculate that she'll run for higher office if she finds her path in the chamber blocked.

Washington state Rep. Jan Angel, Republican

Angel is a ranking member of the Local Government Committee who has twice won election in an otherwise Democratic district. "She's one of those bridge-builders," says one admiring Democrat. "She's very working class and one tough cookie."

Born and raised in Colorado, Angel lived in Alaska for nine years before moving to Washington state in 1983. She served as a Kitsap County commissioner from 2000 to 2008 before winning election to the Legislature. Prior to turning to politics full-time, she worked as a real estate agent. Angel has been active in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a leading group for conservative state legislators.

Texas state Rep. Stefani Carter, Republican

Carter is an African-American woman raised in a family of Democrats, who bucked tradition to become a staunch conservative. Carter won a scholarship to the University of Texas and later earned law and public policy degrees from Harvard. She also won a White House fellowship during the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Before entering politics, she worked as a prosecutor. She was elected to the Legislature in 2010 in a district representing a portion of Dallas. In her first term, she has focused on criminal-justice policy. House Speaker Joe Straus has also appointed her to the National Conference of State Legislatures' Agriculture and Energy Committee.

Nevada state Sen. Michael Roberson, Republican

Roberson -- described by the Las Vegas Sun as "the conservatives' top pugilist" in the Nevada Legislature -- has had a meteroric rise in the closely divided state Senate.

A former Capitol Hill aide, campaign staffer and vice president of a political fundraising company, Roberson moved to Nevada in 2000 and began practicing law. He made his first run for public office in 2010 and won, unseating a Democratic incumbent in a hotly contested race. Roberson's victory impressed his fellow GOP legislators, who tapped him to head the party's campaign effort for 2012. The party needs a net gain of only one seat to flip control of the chamber.

Longtime Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, previously responsible for overseeing campaign efforts, was forced out after the 2010 election amid friction from members of his own party. Despite his long tenure as a GOP powerhouse, Raggio had endorsed Democratic Sen. Harry Reid over GOP challenger Sharron Angle, and was seen by some Republicans as insufficiently anti-tax and anti-spending. Roberson, by contrast, has offered an outspoken, fiscally conservative approach that increasingly resonates within his party. He's considered the frontrunner to become his party's leader in 2013.

Florida state Rep. Will Weatherford, Republican

Weatherford, who lives in Pasco County (north of Tampa Bay), is the official speaker-in-waiting in the GOP-dominated Florida House, with a term that would start after the 2012 elections. "He's bright, very likeable, connected and comes from a major media market," says one Democrat.

Weatherford was one of nine siblings, one of whom was a star quarterback at Florida State (Drew Weatherford). Weatherford's father-in-law, Allan Bense, served as House Speaker in Tallahassee.

Elected to the House in 2006, Weatherford chairs the Redistricting Committee and serves on the influential Rules and Calendar Council. "If there is such a thing as a natural-born leader, Will Weatherford is it," GOP state Rep. Gary Aubuchon told the St. Petersburg Times.

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