Texas Politics

Why is Lieutenant Governor important?



So far, three credible politicians plan to run for lieutenant governor in 2014 – even though the current occupant, Republican David Dewhurst, says he’s running again.

All three of the challengers have served in the Texas Senate – over which the lieutenant governor presides. They are Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, 67 ((DOB 11/15/46)); Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, 50 ((DOB 8/24/63)); and current Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, 63. ((DOB 4/4/50))

All are Republicans like Dewhurst, so this contest will be in the Republican primary next March – assuming that the primary elections aren’t postponed, as they were in 2012.

Why do they want a job that pays the same as a state legislator — $7,200 a year? What’s the appeal?

Well, the Texas lieutenant governor is the most powerful such official in the country. He appoints Senate committees and their chairs; controls the Senate’s agenda, by deciding whom to recognize on the floor; co-chairs the Legislative Budget Board, which writes the rough draft of the biennial budget; and chooses the other four senators to sit on the House-Senate LBB. He can have a lot of influence over the budget.

And, if something happens to the governor, the lieutenant governor moves up. That’s happened four times in the last century, listed below. Dewhurst has scared off most potential challengers with his personal fortune, said to exceed $200 million. He has shown he can self-finance his races.

But Dewhurst, 68, ((DOB 8/18/45)) was upset in the 2012 Republican primary runoff by upstart Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz. He finally found out what the Beatles meant in their song, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.”

The three challengers consider Dewhurst damaged goods, and will take their chances.

All four must win or leave elective office. Patterson and Staples are leaving statewide offices to run.

Patrick drew just a two-year Senate term this year; senators drew for two- or four-year terms to return to staggered four-year terms after all ran in 2012 following redistricting. Had he drawn a four-year term, he could run, lose, and still be senator. But by running for lieutenant governor, he’s giving up his senate seat.

All four candidates are trying to best the others in appealing to the far right. They obviously consider this crucial to winning the primary. And, given the failure of Democrats to win a statewide race since 1994, they presume winning the GOP nomination means they’ll win the general election in November.

For Patterson, it’s an attempt at payback to Dewhurst, who out-spent and out-polled him by 10 percent for the GOP nomination for land commissioner in 1998.

When Dewhurst ran for lieutenant governor in 2002, Patterson made another try. He beat Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, by 13 percent in the primary.

Patrick, who owns talk radio stations in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, and is probably the senate’s most outspokenly conservative member, is trying to spread his influence statewide.

It also represents his pique at Dewhurst, who saw a filibuster and gallery meltdown block the abortion bill that Dewhurst had asked for. Patrick had endorsed Dewhurst in the U.S. Senate race over Cruz, and Dewhurst appointed him to chair the Senate Education Committee this year.

For Staples, it’s just the usual feeling of lesser statewide officeholders: they want to move up.

A caution: most of the lieutenant governor’s powers over the Senate are granted by its rules. If Patrick wins, and the Senate remains at 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans, there’s always a chance that a coalition of the Democrats and four Republicans could coalesce, and greatly weaken the powers the lieutenant governor now enjoys.

Texas Lieutenant Governors Who Filled Governor Vacancy . . . The four in the last century, plus a fifth asterisk, were:

• William P. Hobby Sr. on Aug. 4, 1917 replaced Gov. James A. “Pa” Ferguson, who resigned during an impeachment trial.

• Coke Stevenson on Aug. 4, 1941 replaced Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, who won a special election to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy.

• Allan Shivers on July 11, 1949, succeeded Gov. Beauford Jester, who died of a heart attack.

• Rick Perry, Dec. 21, 2000. Gov. George W. Bush resigned after the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed his election as president. Perry has won three more four-year terms, added to the two years remaining in Bush’s term, making him by far the longest-serving Texas governor.

• Lt. Gov. Preston Smith moved up to be governor in 1969, succeeding Gov. John Connally. But he didn’t become governor because of impeachment, or a special U.S. Senate election, or a death, or someone becoming president. He actually won the 1968 election.

DAVE McNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@gmail.com or (512)458-2963.

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