Does Dewhurst have a future as lieutenant governor?
Mon August 17, 2009 8:19 am

Senate Republicans continue to have conversations about what to do in the event that (a) Dewhurst resigns his office to run for the Senate, or (b) opts to run for lieutenant governor again. The GOP caucus has three factions. The lines are not set in stone, and, depending on the situation, members can move from one faction to the other and back again. First you have the radical right: Williams, Fraser, Patrick, Estes. This is the group that is most outspoken on the subject of having the caucus choose one candidate to succeed Dewhurst and voting as a unit to impose that candidate on the Democrats. Others who are ideologically compatible with this group--Nelson and Ogden, to name two--have their own ambitions and are not necessarily aligned with their ideological allies.

The second identifiable group is the moderates: Averitt, Carona, Duncan, Eltife, Jackson, Seliger, Wentworth. Carona has been out front for this bunch, arguing that Republicans should keep their powder dry and not commit to anyone at this early stage of the game. He makes no secret that he would like to serve as interim lieutenant governor.

The third group can best be described as the undecideds. They don't want to see a repeat of what happened in 2000 after then-lite gov Perry succeeded Bush as governor: a moderate R, Bill Ratliff, garnered enough Democratic support to get elected. Neither are they comfortable with the radicals who propose to run the Senate out of the Republican caucus, transforming the Senate into a body that operates along partisan lines. This group includes Deuell, Hegar, Huffmann, Harris, Nelson, Nichols, and Ogden. Nelson could emerge from this group as a contender for light gov. Ogden's future is uncertain. He has previously said that he would make an announcement this summer about whether he will seek another term; for the moment, Dan Gattis is campaigning vigorously in Brazos County to succeed him. If Dewhurst resigns, or does not file for reelection, Ogden would surely leave, as he could not count on being chairman of Finance under a different lite gov.

What happens next depends upon what Dewhurst decides to do. He is vacillating (nothing new here) between resigning to devote full time to a Senate race (relying on Hutchison's announced intention to vacate her seat) and filing for reelection as lieutenant governor. The problem with the latter decision, as Dewhurst may or may not realize, is that Republicans have grown weary of his eccentricities and his AWOL leadership, and part of their caucus discussions has been about changing the rules to transfer power from the lite gov to the caucus, presumably to a senator who would act as majority leader. This is nothing new; disgruntled R's have been grumbling about Dewhurst since 2005. There is always a lot of grumbling in the Capitol, but talk is cheap and action is risky, and in the end the grumblers usually back off, the unknown being more dangerous than the known. Thus did Craddick's supporters in the House march like lemmings to dinner at Sullivan's on the Sunday before the 2009 session began, when they should have been signing up with Straus, even though they knew that Straus had the votes and Craddick was finished.

We could be on the verge of seeing momentous changes in the Senate—changes that would completely change the way that the upper chamber operates. The radical Republicans are in a position to exploit their caucus colleagues' disdain for Dewhurst to end the tradition of a strong lieutenant governor and transfer his power to the caucus leadership; they can change the rules in the Senate to eliminate the two-thirds rule and to operate by special orders when the normal course of business does not produce the results they want. There is no check on their ambitions. A Bob Bullock could stop them; a David Dewhurst cannot. (Perhaps Greg Abbott could restore the old order, if he were to be elected lite gov in 2010.) The radicals signaled their intentions with the Voter ID play at the start of the 81st Legislature: They want to change the rules in the Senate so that they have complete control over policymaking and the Democrats are frozen out. The majority of the caucus may well go along. I don't think Dewhurst wants to stick around and watch all this happen.

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