Vol 29, Issue 38 Print Issue

Dewhurst Tears Up the Seating Chart

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in his office at Falcon Seaboard in Houston Wednesday, April 25, 2012.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in his office at Falcon Seaboard in Houston Wednesday, April 25, 2012.

His assignments move him to the right after a contest that had him to the left of two out of four Republican candidates, and to make sure everyone got the point, he used the word "conservative" three times in the first two paragraphs of the press release announcing the changes. Laredo Democrat Judith Zaffirini's demotion from chairman of the Higher Education panel and the elevation of Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, to that post got most of the headlines, but here's a bet that his pick for Public Education chairman, Dan Patrick, R-Houston, will get more headlines in the next few months.

Patrick's ascension is a win for school voucher supporters. In fact, Dewhurst waved that flag in his announcement, saying he named Patrick "due to his strong interest in improving public education for children, instituting innovative change and providing for more school choice by parents." Several other senators lobbied for that job (it's open because Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, didn't seek another term), but Patrick got the nod.

Zaffirini has been working for weeks to hang on to higher ed, but Republican senators have been working for weeks to push her out of that assignment and they apparently had the Lite Guv's ear. She'll have a toehold, with sunset bills going through her new committee, including one for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Dewhurst started the shuffling a few weeks ago, tapping Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, to replace Steve Ogden, who didn't seek another term, as head of the Finance committee. That has some logic to it, since the nuts and bolts of budgeteering start well before a legislative session and because it gives Ogden a chance to train Williams in those dark arts.

For the rest, the big question is: Why now? Sorting out the committees is generally a chore for the early weeks of a legislative session and in fact, Dewhurst didn't say who will populate each of the committees to which he named chairs.

Not to stir speculation, but it's worth mentioning that nothing prevents another reshuffling when the session gets going if something convinces the lieutenant governor that one or more of his choices is a sour pickle.

Much remains the same, with some senators chairing the committees they already chaired. That group includes Williams at Finance; Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, at Health and Human Services; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, at State Affairs; John Carona, R-Dallas, at Business and Commerce; Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, at Natural Resources; Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, at Administration; John Whitmire, D-Houston, at Criminal Justice; and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, at Veteran Affairs and Military Installations.

The new names on the masthead — or old names in new places — include Patrick, Seliger, Zaffirini at Government Organization; Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, Transportation; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Open Government; Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security; Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Intergovernmental Relations; Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, Nominations; Royce West, D-Dallas, Jurisprudence; and Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, Economic Development.

Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, saw his committee and his chairmanship abolished; so did Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, who had chaired a Senate subcommittee. The redistricting panel chaired last session by Seliger was also disbanded.

If you're keeping score, that's 12 Republican and six Democrats chairing committees.