More Power To Him?

Unless the Legislature fights back—and it should—Rick Perry may make this a strong-governor state after all.

The most interesting—and far-reaching—issue of this legislative session is one that few foresaw: What is the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature? The emergence of this question came as a complete surprise to the politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats, staffers, and reporters who ply their various trades at the Capitol, because all of us thought we knew the answer: Texas has a constitutionally weak governor and vests the power to create and oversee public policy in the Legislature through its ability to write laws and appropriate funds. As it happens, one person has a different view.

Rick Perry believes that, as governor, he has broad power to influence and even create, unilaterally, public policy in Texas. He has been bent on expanding executive power since his party gained total control over state government in 2003, a year in which the Legislature rushed through a bill giving sweeping new powers to the Texas Department of Transportation, including the ability to privatize highways; passed a reorganization of health and human services agencies that centralized power in a single bureaucrat appointed by the governor; gave the governor a $295 million fund to dole out to companies for economic development; and allowed him to participate fully in the process that crafted the state budget. In August 2005 Perry instructed the commissioner of education, by executive order, to institute education reforms that the Legislature had considered but declined to pass. He followed up that order with another one—since voided by an Austin judge—for expedited hearings on TXU’s request to build new coal-fired power plants.

But it was not until February 2 of this year that lawmakers woke up and finally said, “Enough!” That was the day Perry issued his executive order to Albert Hawkins, the executive commissioner of Health and Human Services, to institute a program requiring young girls, prior to

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