One of the most powerful positions in Texas government is that of lieutenant governor, the presiding officer of the state Senate, with political force largely centered in the ability to make committee appointments and as a result control the flow of legislation.
New Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Tea Party-backed conservative who campaigned on issues that included reducing the role of the Democratic minority in the upper chamber, has made good on this promise — first by reducing the required two-thirds majority needed to bring a bill to the floor, and then Friday by decreasing the number of Democrats who chair committees.
Elections have consequences, and Patrick’s handy defeat of his predecessor, longtime Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in the Republican primary and his sound victory over Senate colleague Leticia Van de Putte in the November general election clearly placed him in a position to wield the power entrusted to him by the voters.
Thus, the lieutenant governor quickly went to work to shape an administration that will aid in furthering his more conservative agenda, in some cases rewarding those who have supported him over the years and punishing those he considers disloyal.
Patrick reduced the number of committees from 18 to 14 and appointed only two Democrats as chairs.
One of them, Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, supported Republican positions on abortion and voted with GOP senators to change the two-thirds rule to one mandating a three-fifths vote to bring legislation to the floor. Lucio is chairman of an expanded (from five members to seven) Intergovernmental Relations Committee.
The other Democrat to receive an appointment is the body’s longest-serving member, John Whitmire of Houston, who will remain chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee. Even Patrick could not ignore Whitmire’s long dedication to solving the state’s criminal justice and prison problems.
Under Dewhurst’s leadership, Democrats made up one-third (six) of the committee chairs.
Tarrant County residents can take solace in the fact that three area senators were selected to head major committees: Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, the first female chair of the Finance Committee; Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, chairing the administration committee; and Brian Birdwell of Granbury, to chair the nominations committee.
In addition, Konni Burton of Colleyville was appointed vice chair of veterans affairs and military installations.
Patrick proudly proclaimed in a statement that he “promised Texas voters that we would get the job done, and we have the team in place to get to work.”
The lieutenant governor must remember that state officials are expected to serve all the people of Texas.