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Obstacles Exist on Path to the Top of the Org Chart

Want to fire up a politician's ambitions? Just create an opening in a higher position — or the possibility of one. Some Texas Republicans are salivating at the prospects of a new job.

Gov. Rick Perry being endorsed by his former GOP primary rival, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, at the 2010 Republican Party of Texas Convention.

Maybe you work in a big organization, with relatively young and healthy people at the top.

That’s just wonderful, unless your plans include upward mobility. You might as well be a Texas politician.

Democrats can’t move up the food chain in Texas until they’ve changed a political environment that will currently elect a Republican for every statewide office, whether or not that Republican is the best person for the job. It’s not the content of the candidate’s character that matters most — it’s the color of the partisan flag.

Republicans looking to move up face two obstacles: competition and a couple of stoppers at the top of the organizational chart. The competition is still there, what with a state full of Republicans and a political climate — see above — where moderates and independents who want to get into a high elected office often have to run as Republicans to succeed. That doesn’t appear to be changing right now.

But the stoppers — their names are Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rick Perry — might both be moving on, and the very idea of that animates Republican ambitions in Texas. Hutchison, elevated to the U.S. Senate in a special election in 1993, isn’t seeking re-election. Perry could run for another term as governor in 2014. But the lines are already forming as if he won’t be on the ballot that year.

At least at the top, the 2014 ballot is as busy as the one for the current election year.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is in the Republican primary race for Hutchison’s seat. Maybe he wins, maybe he loses, but that cautionary note didn’t stop anyone from expressing interest in the office he currently holds. Comptroller Susan Combs is interested. So are Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, is looking at it, too.

There’s another race for lieutenant governor in motion, too, based on the assumption that Dewhurst will win the Senate race. That would leave the 31-member Texas Senate with the happy chore of hoisting one of its own members into that office for the remaining two years of Dewhurst’s term. That intrigue is well under way, with some members angling for just an interim position and others thinking the winner of the inside race could have a shot at winning the job outright in the 2014 elections.

That triggers another round of conversations. Who would be the new comptroller, or land commissioner or agriculture commissioner should any or all of the current occupants dive into the race for lieutenant governor?

The political tribe is full of ambitious, risk-taking characters. The rest of us might not be thinking about this stuff, but they surely are.

A recent news blurb about Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, stirred up another race. He’s been sounding out support for a run for comptroller should Combs run for something else or step aside. Some of his fellow Republicans thought he was considering Staples’s agriculture post. The news prompted Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, to let reporters and others know that he would be interested in Combs’ job. Hilderbran chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, the arbiter of tax and revenue legislation. The overlap between the supplicants there and the supplicants to the comptroller is significant.

Hegar’s splash sent a ripple across the agriculture commissioner race. Former Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, isn’t exactly looking at it and isn’t exactly not looking. He said he would be interested, maybe, if Hegar was not. But he said he isn’t thinking about it and that there is a lot of time between now and then. And he said to stay in touch.

Wouldn’t want to get left out of the conversation, now that the org chart is in play.

Nothing is a lock, particularly with elections and other decisions in the way. Hutchison is leaving, but Dewhurst might not win and might not leave the Senate. Attorney General Greg Abbott might want to run for governor in 2014, but Perry hasn’t opened that door for him. And if Abbott doesn’t run for that, then the attorney general hopefuls — whoever they are — would be stuck.

Just like they are now.

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