After 7 terms in House, Berman looks forward to taking some leisure

EAST TEXAS (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - District 6 Rep. Leo Berman's office is slowly emptying. His desk is clear. The walls are almost barren of mementos and keepsakes from his military, Arlington city council and legislative careers spanning four decades.

Berman is still checking emails, letters and returning phone calls — when he isn't playing golf or traveling — but Tuesday, his Tyler office will close.

Berman, 77, said he will miss answering the needs of constituents, but he is relieved to face a future of leisure with his wife and family rather than late-night debates on the House floor in the coming legislative session.

"Horse trading," as he put it, the back-and-forth bartering for votes on the House floor, will not be missed, he said. Berman won't lose any sleep about missing long nights and early mornings stuck in committee meetings and away from his family.

But helping a veteran navigate the Veterans Services for past due benefits or a single mother for past-due child support, that he will miss, he said.

"I just really enjoy helping people," he said. "Politics? Politics is a lot like sausage making. … You don't want to know what goes into it."

Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Pampa, former House speaker, said there are two types of representatives — those who want to hold a title and those who want to involve themselves in the state's business. Craddick said Berman wanted to be involved.

Berman was on Craddick's House leadership team and was given a chairmanship and vice chairmanship from 2003 to 2007 and a chairmanship until 2009.

"His word is as good as gold," Craddick said. "If he made a commitment, he followed through with it."
Craddick said Berman stood by his beliefs even if he were alone. He said Berman's persistent broaching of illegal immigration in Texas was driven by what the representative viewed as a failed system, one that let Texans down.

"Most people didn't want to talk about (illegal immigration) because it is difficult, but he saw how it affected everything in the state, from education, health care, crime, and he wanted to make reforms," he said.

Craddick called Berman one of the most "jovial," "fun," and "wonderful," human beings he has ever met. People may see the gruff military man, he said, but Berman was a consummate gentleman and representative of the people.

In 2005, Berman played a role in bringing a doctorate nursing program to The University of Texas at Tyler. Berman called the program a major accomplishment for the university and Tyler because the community is a regional health care center.

Berman also filed a bill that year designed to stop the manufacture of methamphetamine. The bill required all medications containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, major ingredients in meth, to be placed behind drugstore counters. It passed and was signed into law.

Illegal immigration became Berman's focus after the 2005 session. He served as chairman of the elections committee in 2007 and pushed for a voter identification bill to address voter fraud by illegal residents.

Berman also introduced numerous bills during sessions in 2009 and 2011 to address illegal immigrant access to state benefits, including education, health care and welfare programs which combined, he said, costs taxpayers billions annually.

Smith County Republican Party Chairman Ashton Oravetz said Berman stuck to his guns on policy topics, a rarity among most politicians. He wasn't swayed by popularity swings and stuck to his principles.

"Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, you have to respect that you know where he stands," Oravetz said.

Berman said he has enjoyed the slowdown and leisure time with his wife and family. They have been traveling extensively and will continue to do so. He said he is completely cancer free after the disease threatened his life earlier this year.

"I will still be involved with the community, but beyond that, I just want to enjoy the rest of my life beside my family and friends, play golf and travel," he said.


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