Friday, April 4, 2014

Dan Patrick's Big Strick | Last Word

I learned in college government classes many years ago that the lieutenant governor of Texas was more powerful than the governor.

Any college professor who still teaches that notion hasn’t been paying attention.

We didn’t change the state constitution.

It’s just that Rick Perry has used two of the powers the constitution does give him to become arguably the most powerful governor in Texas history.

On June 17, 2001, just six months after taking office when George W. Bush headed off to the White House, Perry stunned both houses of the Legislature by executing what became known as the Father’s Day Massacre.

He vetoed a stunning 82 bills passed by legislators.

The reason, in many cases, as divined by legislators, was that the governor vetoed their bills because sponsors offended him in an unrelated matter.

Or as a prominent lobbyist told a writer for the New Yorker, “It was a punch in the nose and a ‘By the way, I’ve got my fist cocked if you still want to (mess) with me.’ ”

The other constitutional authority that has made Perry so powerful is the appointment of hundreds of people to about 200 boards, agencies and commissions.

For previous governors, who had limited themselves to two four-year terms or less, this was not a powerful tool.

Many key appointees serve six-year terms, and cannot be removed by an incoming governor.

But by racking up an unprecedented 14 years in office, Perry long ago enjoyed the power of having named loyalists to every appointed position.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has presided without the political savvy, the driving energy or the tough-mindedness of predecessors such as Bill Hobby and Bob Bullock.

My prediction is that the next lieutenant governor will revive the tradition of being more powerful than the governor. 

That assumes that Houston State Sen. Dan Patrick, barring upsets by either Dewhurst and Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, is the next lieutenant governor.

The lieutenant governor appoints all committee members and chairs, and can control the flow of legislation.

But Dan Patrick will have one more ace up his sleeve: the 2018 Republican primary.

Let me explain by way of example.

In this year’s primary, all seven Republican candidates for attorney general and lieutenant governor called for repealing the Texas law providing in-state college tuition for the undocumented children of immigrants who came here illegally.

The law was passed overwhelmingly more than a decade ago and enthusiastically supported by Gov. Perry.

Clearly, polling showed support for the law to be deadly in this year’s Republican primary. 

But Gregg Abbott, without a serious primary opponent, waffled on the question.

“Greg Abbott believes that the objective of the program is noble,” said spokesman Matt Hirsch. “But he believes the law as structured is flawed and it must be reformed.” 

Abbott hasn’t said how he would reform it.

It is also the sort of divisive issue that House Speaker Joe Straus has kept from seeing the light of day in the House.

But if Dan Patrick is unable to get this or any other Tea Party-type law passed in the regular session, he can demand that Gov. Abbott call a special session. 

There it is harder to kill bills without finger prints in the House, and where the Senate isn’t bound by the regular-session rule that requires a two-thirds vote to bring up a bill.

And if Gov. Abbott doesn’t bow to Lieutenant Patrick’s wishes?

That, friends, is where the 2018 primary comes into play.

Unless there’s a sea change in the Republican party, Abbott could expect Patrick to Tea Party him as he is Dewhurst this year.

That’s why Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will be more powerful than Governor Greg Abbott.

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