Rick Perry is considered by some to be the most powerful governor Texas has ever had. Perry's appointees fill just about every available slot in all agencies and boards in state government.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
"And really, they won't do anything any differently than they would have whether or not he had been elected president," said former Texas Republican political director Royal Masset.
But when it comes to Perry's relationships with lawmakers, he has considerably less power. Harvey Kronberg, editor of the online political newsletter Quorum Report, says the Legislature has cast aside several of Perry's initiatives.
"They rejected the HPV vaccine, they ultimately rejected the Trans-Texas Corridor, they rejected his tax proposals to fund public schools," Kronberg said. "There's a long history of rejecting the governor's initiatives, his big policy initiatives."
But with Republicans controlling two-thirds of the Texas House during the 2011 legislative session, Perry was able to push several bills with which he could later bolster his presidential run: cutting $15 billion from the state budget, passing a voter ID law and defunding Planned Parenthood. Masset says those may have been priorities for candidate Perry but that they were also Tea Party priorities.
"But remember, it was the Tea Party and not Gov. Perry that got the conservative bent to the Legislature," Masset said. "It was not Gov. Perry who elected the extra whatever it was, 30 extra legislators, Republican legislators giving us a majority of 100-to-50 — a two-thirds majority in the House."
And Masset said the real power in the GOP, particularly at the national level, can be found in the conservative media circuit. So he thinks Perry will spend more time flexing his muscles there than in the Texas Legislature — especially if he's eyeing another run in the 2016 presidential election.
But Democrats say ignoring the state would be a big mistake. In a press release last week, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said it’s time for Perry to focus on fixing a broken budget and addressing a neglected education system.
But if not Perry, then who would lead the state's next legislative session in 2013? Watson could have a new boss in the Senate by then if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wins his race for the U.S. Senate in November. And House Speaker Joe Straus must be re-elected each term. So if Straus claims his third term as speaker, “Tom Craddick proved the speaker of the House can be the most powerful person in Texas government," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.
Coleman said any new lieutenant governor would take the helm of the Senate with much less power than Dewhurst. And weaker leadership could diminish what the body could do legislatively, which again points back to the House and Straus to lead.
“It is time for him to exercise the leadership capability he has," Coleman said. "And that would mean the vacuum would be in the Senate or in the governor’s office but not in the House in terms of state government."
Of course, this is very fluid. Perry has just returned to Texas. He hasn’t had time to reassert himself in the governor’s office. Dewhurst hasn’t won the GOP nomination for Senate yet. And Straus still has to win his own election in November before he can run for speaker in January.
That leaves plenty of time for those who want to put their stamp on the session to begin their work.