Since the beginning of the year, Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t spent a lot of time with his fellow statewide elected officials.
Public information records obtained by Texas Scorecard show that from January 1 to March 3, Abbott’s office only has records of meetings and phone calls with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, with no other statewide elected officials appearing on his schedule. That means the governor’s office has no records with the attorney general, the comptroller, the land commissioner, or even the energy-focused railroad commission.
The records seem to confirm an observation made by Capitol sources that, since issuing a series of unilateral executive orders throughout 2020 to address the coronavirus, Abbott has relied increasingly less on his fellow statewide elected officials.
The Texas Constitution does not grant unilateral executive authority to governors. Governors in Texas do not appoint, or even control, most agencies of government. The executive branch of state government is divided between nine officials who are all elected co-equally by the entire state. While the attorney general of the United States is appointed by and works for the president, Texas’ A.G. is completely independent—constitutionally—from the governor.
The separation of executive authority implies that the statewide officials are supposed to be working together. Yet that does not seem to be the case for much of 2020 and 2021.
This is significant considering the gravity of the issues facing Texans in the first quarter of 2021. A new Democrat administration that is hostile toward Texas Republicans was being sworn into office. The state Legislature had convened to craft a budget following a severe economic downturn and to draw new congressional and legislative district lines.
That alone would create enough work, without even mentioning the winter storm crisis of February that affected every part of the state.
Instead, the governor’s office only shows Gov. Abbott scheduling the following meetings:
January 6: A call with Patrick and Phelan, as well as outgoing Speaker Dennis Bonnen
January 27: A breakfast with Patrick and Phelan
February 3: A call with Patrick and Phelan
February 10: A breakfast with Patrick and Phelan
February 17: A call with Patrick and Phelan
February 22: A call with Patrick
February 24: A meeting with Patrick and Phelan
March 2: A call with Patrick and Phelan
Consider for a moment only the legal issues facing the state. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has launched a number of high-profile lawsuits against the federal government as well as the city of Austin in recent months, does not appear on Abbott’s calendar. Neither does Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who had previously sued Abbott’s secretary of state for extending early voting in November.
Meanwhile, the governor is apparently not meeting with the state’s chief financial officer, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, nor is he having discussions with the official overseeing the state’s lucrative land holdings, Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Amid reports that oil field machinery was freezing during the February storm, the governor’s office has no records of him communicating with the members of the railroad commission, the agency charged with regulating and overseeing the oil and gas industry.
Even the meager evidence of statewide collaboration—the relationship between Abbott and Patrick—looked to have soured over a very public disagreement on electrical repricing in the wake of February’s winter storm. The two played out their conflict through press releases and press conferences.
Notably, the only scheduled communication between the two during the storm was a regularly scheduled call on February 17 with Phelan.
Speaking on background, one statewide official told Texas Scorecard he had been unable to even get the governor’s office to return phone calls since last fall. Another described an unwillingness on the part of the governor’s staff to schedule meetings.
As the legislative session continues, and with several proposals to rein in the governor’s emergency powers moving through the process, it remains to be seen whether or not Gov. Abbott will open up more communication with other statewide officials.