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Five Pre-Session Questions

With the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror, transition time is upon us. Between now and Jan. 13 when the gavel falls on the opening of the 84th Legislature, here are some questions to keep in mind.

Speaker Joe Straus walks toward the House on Jan. 8, 2013, the opening day of the 83rd Texas Legislature.

With the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror, transition time is upon us. Between now and Jan. 13, when the gavel falls on the opening of the 84th Legislature, here are some questions to keep in mind.

How do Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the freshman senators interpret their mandate?

Patrick’s temperament and background are unlike any previous occupant of the office in recent memory, which is often described as the state’s most powerful elected position. For those whose living depends on getting stuff done in the Capitol (i.e., the lobby), discerning which direction the chamber will take is of paramount importance.

What are the first things that Gov. Greg Abbott does to establish his own identity/independence?

In his first post-election presser, Abbott laid out a few items intended to show where his priorities lie: yes on open carry, yes on increased border security efforts and skeptical on the continued efficacy of Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund.

The latter demonstrated a low-key opportunity to let the outside world know, “I’m not just here to serve out Rick Perry’s fourth term.” What else might he do to elaborate on the message?

Does the anti-Straus faction push for a roll call vote?

They have a candidate in Scott Turner, but will there be a vote? Capitol observers don’t see Joe Straus' position as speaker as being in too much danger, in part because he’s been willing to reach out to Tea Party members and Democrats alike. A speaker vote is ready made for outside groups’ legislative scorecards, which, come to think about it, is a good argument both for and against it happening.

How will the dominos fall in San Antonio?

Unlike Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte had a free pass to run for lieutenant governor because she drew a four-year term at the start of last session and her Senate seat wasn’t up for election this year. But will she be back? Many Capitol observers are convinced she’ll bolt for the mayor’s contest back home in San Antonio next year.

State Rep. Mike Villarreal is overtly planning a way to transition out of the House into a run for mayor as well, and speculation abounds on how he plans to place an ally in the seat to succeed him. This storyline promises to have a few more twists and turns before a resolution occurs.

What’s the price of oil?

This might turn out to be the most important question of all. Oil prices have been showing significant volatility over the past few months. That’s a development that is surely unwelcome to the incoming state comptroller, Glenn Hegar, whose first revenue estimate will likely receive quite a bit of scrutiny.

The state’s economy is considerably more diverse than 30 years ago when the oil boom-bust cycle played havoc with budget writers. That said, if the energy sector were to pull back on exploration efforts, it would have an effect on the state’s bottom line. Given the inclinations of the Legislature these days, that probably would be reflected in the size of the tax relief passed next session.

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Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick named his transition team Thursday, a day after Gov.-elect Greg Abbott identified his first assistant attorney general, Daniel Hodge, as responsible for “coordinating the transition process.”

Patrick said his longtime chief of staff, Logan Spence, will fill the same role on the transition team. Dallas businessman Roy Bailey was also identified as a member of the transition team.

Patrick’s chief campaign strategist, Allen Blakemore, will assist the transition team, as will Wickers Group President Bob Wickers and Sherry Sylvester, communications adviser to Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

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