At the helm of the Lone Star State for the next four years will be two familiar faces: Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, currently attorney general, and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, now a state senator from Houston.
To put it lightly, both candidates walloped their opponents on Election Day. In so doing, they dashed Democrats’ hopes that Texas might be a more politically competitive state than recent history would suggest.
But not even such decisive victories give incoming leaders a mandate to govern from a place of partisanship.
On the contrary, our new state leaders have an opportunity to reform the sometimes contentious tone that has pervaded the Capitol and to find bipartisan solutions to the state’s challenges — if only they are willing to accept it.
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Improving the state’s public education system was a primary topic for both candidates in the governor’s race. That focus shouldn’t waver now that the election is over.
During his campaign, Abbott outlined some promising proposals, including a comprehensive plan to improve reading and math skills during the critical early years (pre-K through third grade). His plan also includes a mechanism to increase accountability among pre-K programs to ensure they are effective at closing the achievement gap.
Abbott’s role as attorney general in defending the Legislature’s substantial education budget cuts in 2011 has caused many to question his commitment to Texas public schools.
But increasing spending is not a complete solution. Effective investment of state dollars in programs that improve outcomes for high-risk and economically disadvantaged students, in particular, requires a targeted approach. The one he has offered is a good start.
Still, Abbott will need to entertain the ideas of other policymakers and must not cave to the inevitable pressure to reduce spending in all areas.
It was good to hear Abbott reaffirm last week that the Texas Enterprise Fund, Gov. Rick Perry’s signature business incentive program, should be “thoroughly re-evaluated.” Demonstrating that he is committed to leading an accountable and transparent government will help him retain the confidence of business leaders and taxpayers.
Unlike his predecessor, Abbott’s tone on hot-button issues like immigration and fighting the Obama administration has been notably less cantankerous.
These policy land mines are not about to disappear. But Abbott’s more measured approach when dealing with his colleagues in Austin as well as Washington may improve the state’s relationship with federal leaders, particularly when seeking comprehensive solutions to immigration concerns likely to continue if not escalate over the next two years.
If he can maintain a moderate approach to policy confrontations, Abbott should set a useful example for his conservative colleagues.
We worry that Patrick will be less inclined to act similarly.
There’s no doubt that the new lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the state Senate is as conservative as they come in the Texas Legislature. He has long been a favorite of the Tea Party.
As a member of the Senate since 2007, he has championed tax cuts, anti-abortion legislation, Second Amendment rights, school choice in the form of vouchers and last year’s sharp reduction in standardized testing for high school students.
Yet the Senate has also seen Patrick in a leadership role, and he has done well at it. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee last year, he earned a reputation for even-handedness from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Even Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis, the failed Democratic candidate for governor, said she was able to work well with Patrick on the Education Committee.
It’s the even-handed Patrick we need to see as the top Senate leader.
His previous talk to the contrary, he should not push to change the Senate rule that requires two-thirds approval to bring bills to the floor. With Senate membership split between 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats, Patrick can preside over a focused body or one continually at odds with itself, depending on his leadership.
Regardless of political party, Texans want more solutions to the state’s challenges.
We’re holding out hope that our new leaders are willing and able to solve problems, not just fight over them.