Patrick finalizes Senate committees

The Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has finalized committee assignments in the senate for the 84th Legislature. Making good on two longstanding committees, Patrick both consolidated the number of committees and significantly reduced the number of Democratic chairs for those committees that remained. Three committees (Government Organization, Jurisprudence and Open Government) got the ax, and a further two committees (Economic Development and Natural Resources, respectively) were merged. This had the overall effect of slashing the total number of committees from 18 to 14.

All three folded committees had been chaired in the 83rd session by Democrats, as did a further three committees. Thus, 1/3rd of the committees had Democrats at the helm, roughly the proportion of the chamber controlled by the minority party. Patrick kept State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County), the dean of the chamber, in charge of the Criminal Justice Committee, a position he has held for many years. He also tapped State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Cameron County) as the chair of Intergovernmental Relations, a rather low-ranking post. Reportedly, this was an olive branch extended to the upper house’s most centrist Democrat. Lucio was the one Democrat this past week to vote for the elimination of the 2/3rds rule, as well as for the omnibus anti-abortion bill HB2 (the one Wendy Davis filibustered) in 2013.

Among other important picks and retentions was State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) staying on as the chairman of the Higher Education Committee. Seliger has been, according to the Tribune article, an “occasional critic” of the Lieutenant Governor. He also is especially pro-Bill Powers and anti-Wallace Hall, for what it’s worth. State Senators Robert Nichols (R-Cherokee County) and Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County), respectively, also retained their chairmanships (Transportation and Business & Commerce, respectively).

State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County), a two-time chair in the 83rd (Agriculture & Rural Affairs and State Affairs), was stripped of both titles. Harvey Kronberg at Quorum Report opined this could be because Estes was the sole Republican against the 2/3rds rule’s demise. Estes was replaced at Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County), a freshman. I found it somewhat interesting and telling that the one freshman tapped was not a right-wing activist like State Senators Don Huffines (R-Dallas County), Konni Burton (R-Tarrant County) or Bob Hall (R-Van Zandt County), to name a few.

Finally, all eyes were on the Senate Education Committee, of which Patrick previously chaired when he served in the upper chamber. He selected State Senator Larry Taylor (R-Galveston County) as the replacement, which garnered a wide variety of responses. Breitbart Texas appears particularly stoked. Many observers prognosticate that Patrick — now flanked by Taylor — will pursue a wide variety of educational reforms, including a more extensive use of vouchers for charter and private schools.

Say what you want about Patrick, but his first few days in office have featured nothing but him staying true on his word. Unfortunately, that means he was not bluffing on the campaign trail about implementing a very conservative agenda if sent to high office.

This is just a preview of things to come. Patrick is looking more and more like a boisterous and powerful lieutenant governor (the anti-Dewhurst, if you will). Meanwhile, Abbott looks as though he may not continue Perry’s mega-powerful theme. Texas politics may very well regress back to the mean, with a more powerful lieutenant governor and a less powerful governor. Still, don’t be surprised if Patrick runs for governor (and wins) in 2018.

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Deuell backs Patrick

I promise you that this is very significant. State Senator Bob Deuell (R-Hunt County), a long time stalwart of the upper chamber hailing from the east, has endorsed Dan Patrick in the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor. Patrick (R-Harris County), yet another member of the State Senator, did not always appear to have the most amiable of relationships with Deuell. Not so much for any centrism, but his bipartisanship and general decency around Democrats did him in with the Tea Party. Accordingly, he drew a Tea Party backed, far-right challenger in Bob Hall this primary cycle. Deuell and Hall will face off against one another next month in a runoff election, though polls generally put Deuell at an advantage.

Deuell supporting Patrick in a desperate attempt to improve his conservative credentials should not be seen as surprising in the least, but it is extremely important because of what it means for the future of the Texas Senate. Simply put, Deuell was an invaluable part of coalition I conjured up to combat the reign of terror from Dan Patrick, who –barring an incredibly strange turn of events– will be the next Lieutenant Governor of Texas. The point I made last month was that, assuming Wendy Davis’ Senate seat falls into Republican hands (Dems were too lazy to find a candidate worth their weight in paper), 5 Republicans would have to defect and join with the Democrats to strip Lt Gov Patrick of all his power at the start of the 84th Legislative session in January 2015. As I explained previously, the broad powers that the Lieutenant Governor has as the President of the Senate is by tradition not constitutional mandate. A majority of the Senate could easily strip the Lt Gov of her or his powers.

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Eltife defends Two-thirds rule

Patricia Kilday Hart at the Houston Chronicle expands upon an issue I lightly touched upon last week: if and how Dan Patrick and recent primaries might move the general temperament of the upper chamber significantly to the right. Specifically, she noted at least three examples of those Republicans most amenable to maintaining the current balance of order in the chamber.

As I have expanded upon in the aforementioned previous post, the venerable 2/3rds rule in the Senate has been incessantly under attack by both State Senator Dan Patrick or Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. I wrote about this issue at length in The Daily Texan, but the gist of the matter is that some of the Republican top brass want to make the Democratic minority powerless to stop the proposals of the Republican majority. This would run hand-in-hand with the oft-controversial Patrick taking the helm of power as Lieutenant Governor, which also serves as President of the Senate. However, as I mentioned in my other article (which, I insist, you should really read), a majority of the Senate may strip the Lieutenant Governor of his power. This majority (16 Senators) would require 5 Republicans join with the Democrat caucus, assuming Wendy Davis’ seat falls into Republican hands.

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