If a single theme permeates this legislative session, it is the Battle of the Branches between the governor and the Legislature over executive power. The governor’s latest attempt to expand his authority was a proposal that the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission be placed in the hands of a single commissioner appointed by the governor and responsible to him, rather than to an appointed board or commission. Legislative leaders quickly rebuffed the idea, which would have been one more step toward a cabinet form of government. There are already three such superbureaucrats, or “czars,” in state government: Albert Hawkins, executive commissioner of Health and Human Services; Shirley Neely, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency; and Mike Geesline, commissioner of the Texas Department of Insurance.
Just because Perry is in favor of something doesn’t mean it’s a a bad idea. The breakdown of control at TYC is not the first time that cracks have appeared in the system of management that relies on citizen boards, which meet six times a year (at TYC) and lack the time and resources to perform real oversight. It may be time to consider whether Texas needs to move toward a cabinet form of government for major agencies.
But if the power of the executive is going to expand, then the Legislature is going to need new powers too, to assure that checks and balances still exert a force on gubernatorial power. One piece of legislation that could provide such a check is HJR 59 by Elkins, which amends the constitution to allow the Legislature to meet for three days immediately after the period during which the governor may veto bills expires, for the sole purpose of having the opportunity to override his vetoes. Another is SJR 40 by Hegar, another constitutional amendment, which prevents holdover appointees from remaining in office without the advise and consent of the Senate and allows the Senate to revoke its confirmation of appointees.
These proposals appeared at first glance merely to be shots across the governor’s bow, and, indeed, Hegar’s has not yet been referred to committee. But 67 members, many of them Rs, have signed onto Elkins’ veto-override proposal, and it is out of committee and in Calendars. The best friend Rick Perry may have in fighting these amendments may be David Dewhurst, who wants to be governor himself and is unlikely to look kindly on these proposals.