The Top 10 Best and Worst Texans of 2023

Best / Worst 2023
For better or worse, here are the Texas changemakers of this year

2023 was a weird, unbridled year. From Trump’s mugshot going viral, to the UFO — sorry, UAP — hearings in Congress, and adding in AI’s quick and unregulated development, a lot happened.

Yet, this sense of chaos was most felt in the Texas Legislature; we fought through what became a full year of the Lege in session because Gov. Abbott wouldn’t back down on voucher scams. And still, Texan organizers and regular Joes persisted, fighting back on each attack impacting reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare, plus all the other threats conservative politicians provided. There were victories — with laws protecting against race-based hair discrimination and courts ruling in favor of drag events — and there were losses — remember Paxton’s acquittal?

The story of this year will be about people's power. Pro-abortion policies passed in measures across the country during the November elections: it’s there where Texans will fight for their rights despite Republican legislators' attempts to take them away. With the 2024 elections on the horizon, remember that.

But for now, on to the best and worst…

The 5 Best Texans of 2023: 

#1 Best: Amanda Zurawski and 21 other plaintiffs

Victories for reproductive justice are in high demand since Roe’s overturn, and one group stands out in the fight: Amanda Zurawski and 21 other plaintiffs filed suit in March against the State of Texas to “clarify the scope of the ‘medical emergency’ exceptions” under Texas extreme abortion bans. This group of women, and several healthcare providers, fought all year to return medical decisions to patients and doctors — not politicians — after being denied their own abortion care, which resulted in risks to their health, fertility, and lives.

At first, there were seven plaintiffs, then in May, eight more, and in November seven additional women joined. The number of Texans harmed by the bans will only grow, just as seen in this case: the first in the nation brought by women denied abortions since Roe was overturned. Progress Texas kept public attention on regular people fighting back against authoritarian policies. Brave in hard times.

#2 Best: James Talarico

While members of our worst list forced the state takeover of Houston ISD, State Rep. James Talarico (HD- 52) fought the good fight for Texas schools. His legislation supported teacher pay (a former teacher himself), and added funding for special education, school safety, and counselors. Talarico is young, progressive, and was one member of many that helped prevent the institution of Abbott’s costly, extremely unpopular voucher schemes.

#3 Best: Queer Texans

In a year that faced a “historic amount of bills primarily impacting the state’s LGBTQ+ community,” support for trans Texans had huge implications. Texas has the third highest rate of trans youth ages 13-17 and adults over 18 in the U.S.; meaning that more than 120k Trans Texans were targeted by their representatives. Earlier this year SB 12 passed, and it would’ve targeted drag performers and infringed on rights to free speech. It would’ve, if not for queer Texans suing for their rights, and winning in a Texas Court.

Speaking of courts, many transgender athletes were targeted by SB 15, and were banned from college sports despite outcries. Even those protesting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, like Texas Freedom Network’s Adri Pérez, were attacked unprovoked: literally, physically, in their case. We’ve seen queer Texans continue to fight for their existence, rights to expression, and community in the face of concentrated assaults.

#4 Best: Working Texans

From the very public SAG-AFTRA strike in the entertainment industry, to UPS's near strike for increased wages and air-conditioning, to Starbucks workers who stirred drinks and worked toward creating unions nationwide: the labor movement had major gains this year. In our own state, we saw the largest nurses strike in Texas history from hundreds of Ascension employees, who only formed a union last year. They are fighting for adequate staffing and better work conditions to improve patient care. However, they were met with union-busting tactics and their hospital locking them out for days, preventing said care.

Meanwhile, 5,000 Texas General Motors (GM) employees joined the United Auto Workers (UAW) nationwide strike for an increase in wages and equal pay for newer staff. And they won! There is still work to be done, such as their need for a 40 hour work week, but the UAW proved collective action an efficient strategy to protect laborers this year. Texas workers stood united against corporate greed.

#5 Best: Rhetta Bowers

Rep. Rhetta Bowers (HD- 113) introduced House Bill 567, also known as the C.R.O.W.N. Act, during the 88th Session. A bipartisan success, the bill was signed into law and effective Sept. 1, outlawing discrimination based upon ethnic and cultural hairstyles in Texas.

Rhetta Bowers was able to revive a once dead bill from 2021, into law this year and as civil rights victories don’t come often in Texas, she and the authors should be celebrated for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN.)

Honorable Mentions

Thank you to the progressive candidates and officials who keep conservatives accountable. This year Rep. Armando Walle, Rep. Greg Casar, and Rep. Jasmine Crockett ensured their constituents protected against corruption. Thank you also to the new voices joining the fight like Averie Bishop, Sam Eppler, and Francine Ly.

...and the 5 Worst Texans of 2023: 

#1 Worst: Ken Paxton - Top Cop, Top Criminal

Do you know how bad you have to be, like the worst of the worst, to take the top spot ahead of Greg Abbott AND Ted Cruz? Paxton treated us to the spectacle of his impeachment trial which left progressives upset, but unsurprised, when corruption got him off scot-free. He’s acquitted, but the people’s court knows he’s guilty of all the trial’s counts against him of bribery and abuse of office, as well as election denying, suing to take away Texans’ healthcare, and viciously hunting the families of transgender children: accusing them of child abuse while denying gender-affirming care.

Even as we were about to finish this list, he released a memo threatening hospitals in a groundbreaking abortion case that gave a woman back her reproductive rights. Truly the worst.

#2 Worst: Greg Abbott

This guy had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. And that’s great! He tried — over the course of FOUR. FAILED. special sessions — to push voucher scheme legislation. But Texans and their legislators would not have it, and it failed every time despite him holding teacher pay and our electeds hostage. This wasn’t the only thing he wasted money on either (knowing that even one special session costs $2-3 million, and we had four of ‘em.) No, he dedicated funding toward “border security,” and secure he did not, but he did introduce dangerous and deadly border buoys.

Unfortunately, his attention on immigration also meant more funding for Operation Lone Star which doesn’t deter migration, and instead amounts to “mass racial profiling of brown-skinned people at the border.” That funding combined with the $1.5 billion left for SB 3 funding the border wall, and his approval of SB 4, which gives Texas police free reign in arresting anyone at the border, means immigration became more dangerous under Abbott’s rule. 

#3 Worst: Mike Morath: Destroyer of Public Schools

Behold a man that took a wrecking ball to one of the state’s largest independent school districts. Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Education appointed by No. 2 on our list, was the face of Houston ISD’s state takeover. Since then, he’s threatened the closure of more schools by implementing criteria to how schools are rated, but did so after the testing for rating them was done: producing worse results and potentially more closures. He also has a record of lenience toward charter schools, not afforded to their public counterparts.

Although he is being sued by more than 7 districts, this doesn't feel like an equivalent act of justice for the millions of students and teachers whose livelihoods and education were stolen.

#4 Worst: Kathy Banks

Texas public education was attacked on every front this year: and higher education at Texas A&M was no exception. At the public university, which ranks top in the nation with most students enrolled at 77,491 people, President Kathy Banks purposely thwarted the public hiring of Kathleen McElroy.

This decision occurred after offering the acclaimed journalism professor a tenured position, and then retracting due to concerns over her race and previous work. She has since resigned, but students and faculty still lost. Embarrassing for A&M and fully representative of how much we need Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices in place to protect and enhance public university education. This came in the aftermath of SB 17 which banned DEI offices in colleges, and we’ve seen its impact on A&M, but also UT Austin, UNT, and the University of Houston

#5 Worst: Rafael Edward Cruz

What if we just said we don’t like the guy? We’d be in good company, but no, there are many reasons to be a Human Against Ted Cruz. The latest reason was that he introduced a hypocritical bill that prohibits "the use of funds [for] preferred pronouns… or a name other than the legal name." Ironic, considering his preferred nickname of “Ted.” Maybe Rafael Edward Cruz should look inward.

Dishonorable Mention

Mark Lee Dickson, the director of “Right to Life” of East Texas, targeted and traveled to conservative communities with propositions to condemn what he calls “abortion- trafficking.” You should recognize him from several city council meetings where these ordinances passed in conservative regions along the border, and highway concentrations of Texas, primarily Lubbock, Odessa, and Northeast Texas.

This leg of the anti-abortion movement met a standstill in Amarillo and Cochran County primarily because reproductive rights advocates showed up and protested. For now, Dickson is neutralized in these regions, despite his best, fear-mongering efforts. 

Check out our previous Best/Worst Lists!

The Best and Worst Texans of 2022

Top 10 Best and Worst Texans of 2021

Top 10 Best and Worst Texans of 2020

Best & Worst Texas Moments of 2019

10 Worst and Best Texans of 2018

The Best and Worst Texas Had to Offer in 2017

Top 10 Worst Texans of 2016

Top 10 Worst Texans of 2015

Ten Worst Texans of 2014

Dumb and Dumber: Top 10 Worst Texans of 2013