With Texas’ top two elected office-holders eyeing moves to federal office, Texans face the real possibility of our next legislative session being overseen by a governor and lieutenant governor not elected by the people but instead selected by the state’s senate.
With Rick Perry’s presidential bid gaining steam, and David Dewhurst in the race for the US Senate, we could find both men resigning their current offices in late 2012. While not a constitutional crisis, such a scenario creates a leadership conundrum for Texans to thoughtfully consider.
Our state’s constitution provides for an orderly transition of power when vacancies occur in the top offices. If the governor resigns his office, the lieutenant governor — elected statewide, separately from the governor — moves into the governor’s mansion. The senate then picks from among their own a new lieutenant governor.
In the legislatively proscribed order of gubernatorial succession, the president pro tempore of the Senate, Speaker of the House, the Attorney General and the chief judges of the Court of Appeals are all in line to be governor if those proceeding in order were simultaneously unable to serve. Even then, a new lieutenant governor would be picked by the senate.
Let’s say both Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst win their respective federal races. President-elect Perry would likely resign first, to focus on the presidential transition, moving Mr. Dewhurst (Senator-elect, as it were) to the office of the governor.
The state senate would convene to select from among themselves a new lieutenant governor. Once the new lite-guv was sworn in, Mr. Dewhurst could resign and head off to DC. This new lieutenant governor (who just 15 minutes before was a state senator few Texans had heard of) moves up to governor. The senate, still hanging around, would pick yet another new lieutenant governor (also a state senator, who you had probably heard even less about) from the remaining 30 senators.
If such a scenario plays out, it might make voters suddenly pay a little more attention to the senatorial “club” than in the past. By then it’ll be too late, which is why we must begin asking tough questions now.
Why? The senate doing the picking for the new governor and lieutenant governor won’t be elected in 2012 and seated in 2013, it will most likely be the current senators. Worse, it will be a lame-duck senate with members who didn’t seek re-election or were defeated in the 2012 cycle.
The senate is currently composed of 19 Republicans to 12 Democrats. In practice, it’s more like a half-dozen conservatives, a few quasi-conservatives and 19 or more moderates and liberals. (Gerrymandering, incumbency power and voter apathy have conspired to ensure the state senate looks less like Texas, ideologically, than one might presume.)
Nothing stops the senate from populating the offices of governor and lieutenant governor with washed up pols who lost re-election bids, vacated their seats, or are simply out of touch with the state’s electorate. Given the peculiar voting blocs and deal-swapping in the state’s senate, the governor and lieutenant governor could well be a moderate Republican or Democrat.
The kind of leadership the senate picks will have immediate consequences. The 2013 legislative session is going to be fiscally trying, perhaps even more difficult than the recently concluded session. Indeed, budget debates in 2013 will make those of 2011 seem almost benign in comparison.
And don’t think lobbyists and Capitol insiders aren’t giddy about the prospect of influencing the selection of a new state leadership more beholden to them than Texas’ taxpayers.
Frankly, many senators would prefer not be asked where they will stand on the question of who will be allowed to ascend. They’d certainly prefer not to provide any straight answers.
Texans cannot afford a “let’s wait and see” attitude from our senators. As voters, we need to gather public commitments — especially from Republican senators and candidates — about how they will approach the selection process.
Thanks to redistricting, every single senator will be on the ballot in 2012. Waiting until after the November election to ask them about state leadership won’t matter. Make the senators go on the record before getting your support; make them describe how they will vote and publicly commit to picking a sound conservative.
Voters should demand to know, and soon, if their senator plans to let chamber comity and special interests trump the conservative conscience of the Texas majority.