Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made some new committee assignments last week to cover the resignation of state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco. But the rejiggering created as many questions as it answered: Not about who went where, but about what went where.
For instance: What committee will have legislative oversight of electric utility companies?
Averitt was chairman of Natural Resources — that's mostly involved in environmental and resource use. State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, got that panel, but left Business & Commerce, which has oversight of, among other things, electric utilities.
Electric utilities have been Fraser's bread and butter for the last several years, and some came away from the committee announcements thinking he will hang on to some of that. Others came away thinking that he's moved on and that state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas — the new head of B&C — is the new honcho on utilities.
The Senate folks we contacted all pointed to Dewhurst's office for answers. We looked for help to the lieutenant governor's office, where a spokesman says the details are still under discussion. Color it murky.
Of topical interest: The investigations and controversies at the Central Texas headline-generating machine known as the Pedernales Electric Co-op. That's in Fraser's district, and his committee reassignment didn't keep him from calling for legislative hearings into the utility's recent firing of its general manager, who was hired as part of a reform movement at Pedernales. But it's not clear where they're going.
Folks trying to smooth this over all seemed to mention the importance of and time it will take to fight the ongoing battle between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency. It offers state officeholders — Republicans in particular — an opportunity to bash federal regulators. And it's a job that would presumably fall to the legislative overseers of environmental stuff, like Fraser. And keep him too busy to do electrics, while still working in their general vicinity. In legislative parlance, that means they'd still have to visit him and be nice and all.
Moving Carona out of Transportation frees Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Department of Transportation from his headlock, and frees other Republican lawmakers from having to choose between their natural support for a chairman (Carona) and their strong dislike for his position in favor of local option gasoline taxes to pay for transportation projects. Putting state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, in charge of transportation matters could put the agency in a different headlock, but at least the tax thing's over. And more of the controversies in transportation in the last three years have been in the DFW area than in the Houston area, where Williams is from.
Carona recently felt the need to say he's not running for mayor of Dallas, but will be running for reelection to the state Senate. Whatever else that means, it tell the politicos and lobsters in Austin that he's not going away and they can't walk around him.
If this were the House, Dewhurst would have to rewrite the rules — with approval from the members — to change the subject assignments for the committees. But this is the Senate, and it's entirely up to him. The only way to really know is to wait until next year's legislative session, when he'll name the members of the committees (again, with or without changes) and start sending legislation to them for consideration. It's all up to the lieutenant governor.