Dan Patrick’s committee assignments, announced Friday afternoon, strike me as fairly sound. His self-imposed parameter, that a Republican lieutenant governor should be reluctant to appoint Democrats to chair committees, limited his options: the Senate has 20 Republicans, but 8 of them are freshman, who by definition lack experience in the Senate (although half of them—Brandon Creighton, Lois Kolkhorst, Charles Perry, and Van Taylor—have served in the House). Another potential pitfall was the fact that during his years in the Senate, Patrick routinely broke with his fellow Republicans on various matters, and several of the returning senators are known to have strained relations with their new president.
In the end, Patrick’s picks reflect both constraints. The rules adopted last week winnowed the number of committees from 18 to 14, meaning that Patrick had fewer committee assignments to make altogether. Although he appointed the same number of Republican chairs (12) as Dewhurst did in 2013, he appointed only two Democrats (John Whitmire and Eddie Lucio) compared to six. Patrick also passed over one experienced Republican, Craig Estes, who was, perhaps relatedly, the sole Republican not to vote for the new rules.
The decision to limit the number of Democrats meant that Patrick forewent senators like Chuy Hinojosa, who is highly experienced and hardly a commie. The snub of Estes meant that he had to find his 12th Republican in one of the aforementioned freshmen, Charles Perry. And Democrats, of course, were not pleased to find themselves at a further disadvantage in terms of committee assignments as well as chairmanships.
With that said, Patrick could have done worse. As the new senator from Lubbock, Perry has every reason to do his best for the Committee on Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs. The decision to appoint Donna Campbell to chair the committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations was a surprise—many people had expected to see Campbell as chair of Public Education—but probably shouldn’t have been. As a doctor from the greater San Antonio area, Campbell has expertise in some of that committee’s likely concerns, and Public Education probably needed someone with more experience in the Lege, which is true of its new chair, Larry Taylor. Re-upping Kel Seliger as chair of HIgher Education, despite the high-profile dustup between Seliger and Patrick on the dark money bill in 2013, suggests that Patrick isn’t completely vindictive. Meanwhile, for any Democrats reading: I get why you’re frustrated, but you’re bound to be frustrated if your party loses the general election by twenty points.
Overall, my biggest criticism of Patrick’s committee assignments would be that these picks, like the Senate’s decision to move from a two-thirds rule to a three-fifths rule, were clearly the result of a campaign promise which was more opportunistic (an effort to draw a distinction between himself and the incumbent) than substantive.
With that said, the new approach to the committee chairmanships, like the switch to the three-fifths rule, will probably have less impact than conservatives are hoping and Democrats are fearing. “The average score on conservative indexes during the last session by the new batch of chairman was a 70%.*,” crowed AgendaWise, “During the 2013 session chairmen appointed by former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst averaged a 61% on the same indexes.” That methodology is somewhat obscure—which conservative indexes?–but considering that 67% of the 2013 chairmen were Republican, compared to 86% today, the fact that the chairmen as a group are 9% more conservative isn’t exactly the stuff of legend. And both sides have cause to be optimistic. Now that Governor Patrick has fulfilled two campaign promises he can, I hope, focus on governing.