The Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock County) will be resigning from the Senate in order to become the next Chancellor of Texas Tech. Admittedly, I heard a rumor about this a couple of months ago and utterly refused to accept it until I saw it confirmed. I do not especially care about the wonky higher education implications of this, and considering that I do not even talk about the (albeit fascinating) inside politics at the UT system on this publication, I will not bore you with the Ivory Tower tales from Lubbock, Texas (Editorial note: Carl, this is not elitist against your alma matter, it is a general comment that details of inner squabbles with universities, even involving my own college, are not meant to be published here).
Rather, I think the implications of someone like Duncan leaving the Texas Senate are quite significant for two key reasons. First, Duncan is definitely one of the most noble Senators in the upper chamber, and likely the most noble among Republicans. Avid followers of the chamber will surely remember Duncan for his kindness, integrity and all around good graces toward those on both sides of the aisle. However, much more pressing is that he was a foe to ideologues and partisan-over-policy attitudes, especially those in the Tea Party and other fringes of the right wing. In fact, early this year, Duncan strongly repudiated the so-called “race to the right,” a move that garnered him some positive press from an op-ed of mine in The Daily Texan.
Duncan’s seat, which is not up for election this fall, will have to be filled via a Special Election following Duncan’s resignation next month. Already, State Representative Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County) has declared his intention to run, and others will be sure to follow. Perry, for his part, is much more conservative than Duncan, and is a product himself of the great 2010 wave of Tea Party anti-incumbency. In that year’s primary, he defeated Delwin Jones, one of the longest serving House members, in a nasty and bitter primary. Duncan, along with the entire establishment, did not endorse Perry in that fight, for what it is worth.
However, the most significant result of this realignment is that eviscerates any last hope of Dan Patrick being stripped of his powers if and when he becomes Lieutenant Governor next January. As I first opined back in March, the Democrats would need 5 Republicans to join with them in opposing Patrick’s reign. This is because the Lieutenant Governor’s power as President of the Senate is derived not from the Constitution, but from a majority of Senators. Just a year ago, the list would have been pretty easy to prepare: John Carona, Bob Deuell, Robert Duncan, Kevin Eltife, Kel Seliger and Tommy Williams. Well, since then, Duncan and Williams have resigned, Carona was defeated for renomination and Deuell has become a Dan Patrick supporter.
The list now generously consists of Kevin Eltife and Kel Seliger, with perhaps Robert Nichols joining in. That is two short of a majority if combined with the Democratic caucus.
We already knew that –barring a miracle– Dan Patrick would be the Lieutenant Governor next year. But now we know we will be fully powerful. Brace yourselves.