Let us assume that Dan Patrick wins the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Further, let us assume that –no matter what the Washington Post may say– Patrick wins the general election. What, then, will become of our Texas? Liberals are preaching about a tentative apocalypse that may occur if Patrick takes the dais at the Senate. Tea Partiers are giddy at the prospect of having one of their own in office.
This leads us to examine just what would, in fact, happen if (when) Patrick is inaugurated into office at the commencement of the 84th Legislature in January 2015. An article in the San Antonio Express-News begins to answer that question, but stops shy of the pronouncement I will go on to say. Simply put, the article notes the continuing hostility between Patrick and many of the Republican members of the State Senate. In my opinion, the article focuses too much on the prospect of what the Senate majority would do if State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), the Democratic nominee, is elected, given how quixotic that proposition could be. Instead, I would like to focus on how the Senate majority may react to the –far more likely– result of Dan Patrick being elected Lieutenant Governor.
The Lieutenant Governor is sometimes called the most powerful official in the State of Texas. Over the course of the last thirteen years (Gov. Perry’s reign), this proposition has been turned on its face. However, I tend to think that has largely been a result of Governor Rick Perry’s bombastic personality and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst’s lackluster disposition. Accordingly, there is a compelling case to be made for the roles reversing once more when Perry leaves office early next year. This is because the Lieutenant Governor also serves as the President of the Senate. In this role, he (or she) appoints all the chairs and members of committees, assigns bills to those committees and controls the ebbs and flows of the general sense of legislation.
However, all of these conditions only exist at the pleasure of the State Senate. By the rules and regulations of the Texas Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor only has the statutory authority to break ties in the chamber (a rare sight, considering there are 31 members). Everything else comes from the rules of the Senate, which are made at the start of each session by majority vote. Accordingly, so as long as 16 Senators come together, they can strip the Lieutenant Governor of all his powers and designate one of their own –ideally the President Pro Tem of the Senate– to take the reigns.
The Senate currently consists of 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans. However, Wendy Davis’ Senate seat will likely fall into Republican hands, thus shifting the balance to 11-20. If we assume that Davis’ seat is forsaken to a Republican pickup, this would mean that five Republicans need to defect and join with Democrats in order to select a Lieutenant Governor who is less of a firebreather and more of a statesman. If you think this proposal is unrealistic, it has a somewhat strong precedent in Texas politics.
In 2009, moderate Republican Joe Straus unseated incumbent House Speaker Tom Craddick following support from both Democrats and only 10 fellow Republicans. The same could easily occur in the upper chamber as well if the requisite number of defectors are found.
Bob Deuell (R-Hunt County), Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County) and Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) come to mind immediately as the most amenable to such a coup d’etat. This leaves one more Senator to be desired. I would guess Robert Nichols (R-Cherokee County) would be the ideal choice.
I will have more if and when the day comes that Dan Patrick starts being referred to as “Lieutenant Governor-elect,” with more of a gameplan. Expect many more to do so as well. I like the ring of “Robert Duncan, President of the Senate.”