The Associated Press is reporting that Senator Mario Gallegos of Houston has announced that he needs a liver transplant and may miss “most” of the session. Gallegos was elected president pro tem of the Senate by his colleagues on the opening day of the session. While the Capitol community is united in the hope that Gallegos will be able to resume his duties in good health, it is impossible to ignore the political significance of his absence. The division of the Senate is 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats. With Gallegos absent, the number of votes needed to suspend the regular order of business in the Senate would be 20 instead of 21, and Democrats could no longer act in concert to block legislation they find objectionable. Whether Gallegos would be able to travel to Austin for key votes is unclear at this time. Gallegos has asked Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst to delay votes on important bills until he can return. While such requests have been granted in the past–for Democratic senator Greg Luna of San Antonio, for example–Luna’s request was for a single bill rather than a blanket request, which seems to be a very heavy burden to put on the session.
It would be ironic indeed if, after freshman Republican senator Dan Patrick of Houston failed on Tuesday by a 30-1 vote to kill the Senate tradition requiring a two-thirds vote for bringing most legislation to the floor, the two-thirds rule were to be rendered ineffective for Democrats by Gallegos’s illness. It is too early to know how this story will develop, but it would not be surprising if some Democrats, in or out of the Capitol, urged Gallegos to resign and allow a successor to be chosen in a special election. State Representative Rick Noriega of Houston would be a leading contender.
I’m sorry to have to discuss politics under these circumstances, and I hope Senator Gallegos returns to good health soon.