More Power to Him

The office of governor is constitutionally weak, but don’t tell that to George. W. Bush.

Just as a vociferous Republican revolution is under way in Washington, a quiet one is taking place in Texas. Even before he took office on January 17, George W. Bush made it clear that he intended to redefine the role of governor. The Texas constitution of 1876, written in the twilight of Reconstruction, established a weak chief executive and a strong legislature, and that imbalance of power has prevailed for more than a century. But if Bush had his way, he will be more involved in the major issues of the state—especially the budget, traditionally the near-exclusive province of the Legislature—than any governor since the reviled scalawag E.J. Davis fled from office in 1874.

Bush’s opportunity to expand the power of his office comes from a unique combination of three sources: party, promises, and personnel. The Republican Party, while still a minority in the Legislature, has established new high-water marks in both the House (61 out of 150 members) and the Senate (14 of 31). Moreover, Republicans are far more united than their Democratic counterparts. The promises Bush made in his issue-oriented campaign, and his surprising 350,000 vote margin, give him the clout to make changes in the four areas he stressed: education, welfare, crime, and tort litigation.

As for personnel, Bush—unlike most of his predecessors—will be able to take control of key state agencies near the beginning of his term. In the past, governors have had to wait until their third year in office before they could appoint a majority to the boards that oversee the agencies. But the Legislature passed new laws to allow Ann Richards to wrest control of the bureaucracy from appointees of departing GOP governor Bill Clements, and Bush

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