Bill Ratliff, former state senator and one-time lieutenant governor of Texas, has been hailed as one of the state's greatest leaders, a thoughtful and dutiful public servant who routinely risked his own political career to solve public problems in a bipartisan manner.
Bill Ratliff enjoyed a career as a civil engineer before he entered politics; he was elected to the state senate in 1989, a Republican representing a rural Texas district. During the next 15 years, he would bring hard work, fair-mindedness, wisdom and courage to some of the most hotly contested public issues in Texas. Among his many legislative achievements, he drove the passage of a controversial law to overhaul the financing of the state public education system, redistributing property tax income from wealthy school districts to poor ones. In a difficult battle over tort reform, Ratliff fought to protect patients' rights in medical malpractice cases. And in 2003, he publicly upbraided his Senate colleagues for lacking the courage to raise taxes in the face of staggering budget cuts that would overwhelmingly affect the state's poorest residents.
In the spring of 2003, with the Texas legislature locked in bitter debate over a divisive plan to redraw congressional districts for the second time in as many years, Republican leaders sought to sidestep opposition to their redistricting bill by changing the rules of the Senate. Ratliff sensed that partisanship had supplanted some lawmakers' concern for the public interest, and he became the lone Republican to join ten Senate Democrats in opposing the redistricting effort. He expressed concerns about the rights of rural voters, who would be underrepresented under the new plan, and voiced strong reservations about the long-term damage that would be done to the Senate as an institution if its rules were arbitrarily abandoned. In the fall of 2003, the Republican majority approved a new congressional map, and Ratliff resigned from the Senate shortly thereafter.
Bill Ratliff still enjoys the deep and abiding respect and gratitude of his fellow Texans, Republicans and Democrats alike. For the example he has set of courage and principle in American public life, Bill Ratliff was honored with the 2005 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.