Proving he knows that reporters are notoriously lazy late on Friday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst finally released committee assignments at 4:45 p.m. today, probably hoping that no one would notice he gave Judith Zaffirini responsibility for higher education, lopping it off from Florence Shapiro’s education committee. Good luck with that, Dew.
Zaffirini has been angling for her own committee for some time, though she has been a particularly influential vice-chair of Finance, as well as chairman of the Education Committee’s subcommittee on Higher Ed.
Here’s the official story: With three complex and important issues looming (tuition deregulation, the top ten percent rule and the need for more Tier One universities), Senate leaders all agreed that Higher Education needed its own committee so that those issues would receive all the attention they deserve. And Dewhurst also made a similar decision with two other previous subcommittees, creating stand-alone committees for Agriculture and Economic Development. Shapiro issued a statement endorsing the Higher Education Committee:
“”I look forward to working with the State Senate’s new Select Committee on Higher Education. Senator Zaffirini’s expertise with finance and higher education is widely regarded. Additionally, based on the past and present work of the State Senate’s Education Committee, I intend to continue working closely with all my Senate colleagues to address our state’s primary, secondary and higher education concerns, including Tier One research status for more Texas universities, Top 10 percent admissions reform, and tuition deregulation.”
Now for the unattributed, but highly plausible stuff being said about the Dew’s decision: That Zaffirini lobbied skillfully for the committee, armed with newspaper clipping analyses demonstrating the importance of higher education issues, as well as a log from previous sessions showing that Higher Ed issues were “delayed” by the process of reporting back to the Education Committee. That Dewhurst confided in others that he had “a Zaffirini problem,” meaning that he needed to find a committee to hand over to the Senate’s second-ranking member. That he considered creating a super-committee to give her with jurisdiction over sunset bills and contracting issue, which she shot down. That some believe Dewhurst has been looking for a way to clip Shapiro’s wings since she indicated interest in a U.S. Senate race. (What…she was suppose to wait until he made up his mind? Like that makes any sense.) That some Republicans lobbied against Zaffirini getting the committee because of her strong statements on the Senate floor against the Voter ID special order. That Dewhurst’s tapping of Dan Patrick as vice-chair of both Education and Higher Education committees shows he hopes to gain an ally (or at least neutralize the talk show host) in his potential U.S. Senate race.
Does any of that really matter? Maybe not. A stand-alone committee makes a lot of sense given the issues, and Zaffirini is the natural choice. Sometimes – despite personalities and raging ambition – good policy decisions happen.