Texplainer: Who's Next in Line to Be Governor?

Sen. Mike Jackson R-La Porte on last regular day of the 82nd legislative session May 30th, 2011
Sen. Mike Jackson R-La Porte on last regular day of the 82nd legislative session May 30th, 2011

Hey, Texplainer: Who becomes governor if both Rick Perry and David Dewhurst are elected to other offices?

It's no secret that two of Texas’ top politicians may be angling for new jobs. Gov. Rick Perry’s recent excursions have been well-publicized, and the evidence of a possible Perry presidential bid is mounting.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who handles the state's gubernatorial responsibilities when Perry is out of state, appears set on a different title: U.S. senator. Dewhurst has expressed interest in running for GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat upon her retirement, and he sent a letter to his supporters in June foreshadowing an announcement this month.

So who becomes governor if both Perry and Dewhurst are elected to different offices in 2012? The answer, for at least a short period of time, is Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte and currently the Texas Senate's president pro tempore (the lieutenant governor is president of the state Senate, so when he is temporarily unavailable, another senator serves as president "for the time being," or president pro tempore).

Article 4, section 17 of the Texas Constitution gives the state Senate's president pro tempore the temporary power (and compensation) of governor if both the governor and lieutenant governor are unable to serve, but in such a case, the official replacements for both positions are decisions that lay in the hands of senators.

 

When the position of lieutenant governor is vacated, the Senate pro tempore is charged with convening a Committee of the Whole — that's everyone in the Senate — within 30 days of the job’s opening so that senators can elect one of their own to serve. Whoever is elected will serve as lieutenant governor until the end of his or her term as senator or the end of the lieutenant governor’s term, whichever comes first.

If Perry and Dewhurst are both elected, the senator elected to fill the lieutenant governor’s position will then automatically become acting governor under Article 4, section 16 of the Texas Constitution, which gives the lieutenant governor the authority to take over gubernatorial responsibilities if the governor vacates the position.

With the lieutenant governor position once again vacant, the Committee of the Whole would convene a second time to select another senator to act as lieutenant governor.

The Texas Constitution specifies that next in the line of succession, after the lieutenant governor and the Senate's president pro tempore, is the Speaker of the House (Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio), then the Attorney General (Greg Abbott) and then the chief judges of the Texas Courts of Appeals in numerical order of the judicial districts.

Neither Perry nor Dewhurst has to resign his current position to run for a different one next year (their terms both end in 2015), and it’s unlikely that either would do so. They've got lighter schedules now that the legislative session is over, and resigning would run the risk of ending up unemployed. 

If Perry runs and wins, and Dewhurst doesn't run or runs and loses, Dewhurst would become governor and Jackson would become the temporary lieutenant governor until senators elect one of their own. There's a recent precedent for this: When George W. Bush was elected president and left the Governor’s Mansion in 2000, then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry moved into the position and state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, then the president pro tempore, convened the Committee of the Whole, which elected Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, to lead the upper chamber as lieutenant governor.

Speculation regarding which senator might be elected by the Senate has begun, with possible replacements jockeying for the favor of their peers during the regular and special session. For now, all they can do is watch and wait as Perry and Dewhurst contemplate their futures.

Bottom line: If both Perry and Dewhurst are elected to new posts, Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Jackson becomes lieutenant governor and acting governor. But only temporarily. 

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