State Sen. Kevin P. Eltife's candor and ethics drew praise as higher education and elected officials paid tribute Thursday to his service in the legislature, particularly for his support of higher education.
Eltife, R-Tyler, was elected to the Texas Senate in early 2004 but is not seeking re-election in 2016.
Approximately 200 people attended a ceremony honoring Eltife during the Tyler Junior College board of trustees' monthly meeting.
"He has been a great service leader for the community and a man of principle," state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said.
State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, who has served in Austin with Eltife the last two legislative sessions, quipped that Eltife is the worst politician in the history of Texas, because he refuses to do what is politically expedient and to tell people what they want to hear.
Eltife will tell them what they need to hear, and he has a habit of actually doing what he says he is going to do, Clardy said. He praised Eltife's ability to work with others, his desire to find solutions, his integrity and service.
Examples are Eltife's work for passage of a bill authorizing a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene at TJC and support for the hotel occupancy tax, Clardy said.
State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, read aloud a resolution adopted by the TJC trustees that stated Eltife's key support was instrumental in passage of the dental hygiene bill, the only measure of its type to clear the senate where other baccalaureate bills for two-year colleges failed.
The board presented Eltife an honorary associate degree in dental hygiene, which is the highest honor the college can give, TJC President Mike Metke said. The college will also name an operatory — a room for dental hygiene procedures — for Eltife, Metke said.
"Eltife's leadership and integrity as a public servant are unsurpassed and are evident from his many accolades," the TJC resolution read.
Some of Eltife's awards include the Association of Texas Professional Educators "Freedom to Teach" award, the "Champion for Free Enterprise" award from Texas Association of Business, and "Legislator of the Year" award from Texas Municipal League.
Tyler Mayor Martin Heines proclaimed Thursday "Senator Kevin Eltife Day."
The proclamation noted Eltife served the maximum of three, two-year terms as city council member and mayor and during his tenure, Eltife helped the city eliminate its general obligation debt, attain a AAA bond rating and reduce the property tax rate.
After serving on the city council, Eltife continued his public service as a state senator representing District 1.
"His passion and dedication to fight for a cause he believed in and his unwavering principles put him in a category by himself," the proclamation stated.
Dr. Bill Holda, president of Kilgore College, said Eltife "was the one guy in the whole legislature we could go to and get the straight story, and when you needed help, he was there for you."
Holda read a resolution from the Kilgore College board of trustees that pointed out Eltife served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, chairman of the senate administration committee and on the senate business and commerce, economic development, finance and resources committee.
In representing six community colleges, Eltife was an outspoken supporter of community colleges, the resolution stated, expressing the board's deep appreciation and gratitude for his service.
John McCullough, of Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant, praised Eltife similarly.
Robert Jones, representing Texarkana College board of trustees, said Eltife advocated for Texarkana College during trying financial times and provided invaluable guidance and advice to help the institution regain stability.
Dr. Rodney Mabry, president of The University of Texas at Tyler, noted Eltife provided "great help" in getting legislation passed for the university's new Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy.
"Kevin, you've been wonderful and so productive," Mabry told the senator.
"Kevin really is special in that he processes things well, he understands the advantages and disadvantages and makes a decision quickly about whether it's something that needs to be done and sometimes he tells us no," Mabry said. "He has done so much and contributed to Tyler and Smith County and East Texas and throughout the state."
Dr. Kirk Calhoun, president of UT Health Northeast, thanked Eltife for helping turn the institution "into something very special" with its 1,600 faculty and staff and 15,000 patients served a month.
"We all owe a debt of gratitude," Calhoun said. He added that Eltife has served as an example of honesty and candor, a great personal advisor and a great friend. Calhoun presented the senator a white coat, symbolizing he is an honorary faculty member.
Responding to the many laudatory remarks, Eltife said his mother was the driving force in his life that made him the success he is today.
"I am embarrassed that you are here today to thank me for doing a job that has enriched my life beyond words," he said. "I owe all of you a thank you for allowing me to serve in public office."