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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s pugnacious leadership style was on display this month as he took public aim at two fellow Republicans who crossed him, sending an early message in this year’s legislative session that anyone — friend or foe — who gets in his way will face his wrath.
State Rep. Steve Toth, a fellow conservative from The Woodlands, learned that lesson earlier this month when Patrick unleashed a spirited attack against him in the form of multiple press releases from his campaign that were sent to news organizations and posted on social media. Patrick criticized Toth over comments he reportedly made suggesting the Senate shared blame for the Legislature’s failure to pass a bill that would have banned gender-transitioning medical care and surgery for children. Patrick denounced Toth as a “fraud” who was using misdirection and revisionist history to cast blame on the Senate, which Patrick presides over.
A few days later, Patrick ratcheted up an older feud when he took to Twitter and essentially demanded that several companies and organizations drop former state Rep. Chris Paddie as their lobbyist. Patrick has had a vendetta against the Marshall Republican since 2021, when the Senate clashed with the House over the policy response to the power grid failure. At the time, Paddie chaired the powerful House State Affairs Committee, which was a major clearinghouse for grid reforms.
The conflicts with Toth and Paddie highlight an aggressive start to the session by Patrick, who begins his third term overseeing a state Senate in which the GOP majority is more in lockstep with him than ever.
“This is the pugilist Patrick on full display,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, adding that Patrick is “at the apex of his power right now” and pressing his influence. “He runs the Senate as effectively and without fear as any lieutenant governor since Bob Bullock,” the formidable Democratic lieutenant governor who served in the 1990s. “This to me is something that he wants to complete across the rotunda.”
Patrick, who has presided over the Senate for eight years, has used his power as lieutenant governor to push Texas politics in a more socially conservative direction.
Easily the most outspoken of the Big Three state officials — the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker — Patrick has made no qualms in the past about bending arms or using public pressure to get other state officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, to go along with his plans. In the past, he has stripped Republican senators of leadership positions for refusing to go along with his priorities, contributing to an environment where he wields tremendous control of legislation passing the Senate and rarely faces dissent.
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But much of his wrath has been focused on members of the House, the lower chamber which Patrick views as insufficiently conservative and which has sometimes thwarted his priorities.
His recent feud with Toth is striking in that they are two sides of the same ideological coin. Toth is one of the most socially conservative lawmakers in the Legislature, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and a usual favorite of grassroots conservatives. He has filed two bills this session to ban transition-related care for children.
Toth, in an interview, was not keen on being on Patrick’s bad side and insisted it was all a misunderstanding.
“He’s a freaking rock star,” Toth said of Patrick. “Who’s a bigger supporter of him than me in the House?”
The issue started when Texas Scorecard, a conservative website, published an article that said Toth blamed the Senate for “killing” such legislation, which is a major priority for the Republican Party of Texas. The website said Toth had made those comments in a private meeting that was secretly recorded.
“It came over from the Senate ridiculously late, and they knew that we were going to have trouble,” Toth said. “There’s plenty of blame that needs to be spread around in this thing.”
One day later, Patrick’s campaign issued a news release pushing back against Toth’s “irrational accusations.” The release went into lengthy detail about when the Senate pushed out legislation to ban transition-related care for children and how the House bills on the same issue stalled in the lower chamber.
“Rep. Toth has a reputation for blaming others to cover up his own shortcomings on getting his bills passed,” Patrick said in a statement. “Rep. Toth’s baseless allegations and misplaced blame have cost him any shred of credibility.”
Toth has said his comments were taken out of context. He said he was explaining the difficulties lawmakers face when going through the legislative process and did not blame the Senate or Patrick for the bill’s death. Toth said the conservative website was trying to drive a wedge between conservative lawmakers who were naturally aligned.
In the recording, Toth said the Big Three leaders could have put more muscle behind the issue and he criticized Abbott for not putting the issue on the agenda during three special sessions he called in 2021. Toth also criticized Patrick for not asking for the issue to be taken up during the special sessions.
“None of them wanted it,” Toth said on the recording.
Toth’s explanation has not appeased Patrick, who issued another news release calling Toth a fraud. Patrick has not responded to Toth’s request for a meeting to clear the air.
On Thursday, Patrick again attacked Toth in a statement to The Texas Tribune saying Toth’s words had not been taken out of context and had misled the group he was talking to about the Senate’s intent.
“He continues to ignore the truth and has not publicly apologized for blaming the Senate. He knows we wanted to pass that legislation to the Governor’s desk,” Patrick said.
A grudge becomes more personal
Patrick’s beef with Paddie dates back to 2021, when Paddie was a key player in the policy response to the grid failure as chair of the House State Affairs Committee. Patrick went all out to try to reverse billions of dollars in charges for wholesale electricity during the winter storm that caused the disaster, but the House resisted the idea, known as repricing, favoring a more deliberative approach. Along the way, Patrick accused House leadership, which included Paddie, of siding with “big business” over average Texans.
Patrick never got his way on repricing, a rare high-profile loss for the all-powerful Senate leader.
But Patrick’s grudge against Paddie only became more personal. In a statement later that year, Patrick accused Paddie of misleading state utility regulators about the intent of a bill to help power companies who had to swallow massive prices from gas suppliers during the grid crisis. Patrick said Paddie had been “disingenuous throughout the legislative process and after.” He also publicly speculated that Paddie, who had since announced he would not run for reelection, was preparing to take a “highly compensated position in the same electric industry that stands to benefit from his position” on the bill.
Paddie indeed went on to become a lobbyist for the electricity industry, signing clients such as Vistra, the Irving-based energy company, after finding a way around an ethics law that had previously ensnared him. When that became known late last year, Patrick reupped his criticism of Paddie, saying in a tweet that “Vistra leadership & shareholders should know he’s lost his credibility & not welcome in my office.”
In his latest tweet this week, Patrick tagged six of Paddie’s lobby clients and said he hopes they “know he has no credibility & not welcome in my office for his disingenuous & unprofessional conduct last session on the grid.”
Paddie declined to comment on Patrick’s latest attack. So did Vistra, the company whose hiring of Paddie seems to have angered Patrick the most.
As of Thursday, records with the Texas Ethics Commission showed Paddie was still registered to lobby for all the clients that Patrick had singled out.