When the Texas Senate convenes in 2013, it has the opportunity to shed its reputation among conservatives as the body that kills good ideas and gives new life to bad ones. With a solidly right-thinking bloc entering the chamber, and the certainty that David Dewhurst will be manning the dais, the Senate could be conservatives’ happy-place in the next session.
Some liberals in the Austin gossip circuit have been busily writing Mr. Dewhurst’s political obituary. But remember: come January 2013, as Ted Cruz takes the oath of office in Washington, David Dewhurst will still be Texas’ lieutenant governor.
For as emotionally wrapped up as everyone got in the US Senate race (we did not endorse), conservatives will do better with Mr. Dewhurst staying on as the upper chamber’s presiding officer than would otherwise have been the case. While it might be a bittersweet thought for the lieutenant governor and his supporters, he has the opportunity to do some real good in Texas – and perhaps more in 2013 than he would have had as a freshman senator in D.C.
First, after a decade everyone is familiar with Mr. Dewhurst’s leadership style. Love it or hate it, it is a known quantity. He doesn’t need on-the-job-training and isn’t beholden to a bloc of senators (see reason 3 below). Committee chairs will be in place, and the more robust conservative caucus in the Senate will be able to get to work much faster.
Second, if Dewhurst were heading to D.C. right now the likely choices for stand-in presiding officer weren’t that exciting… and even downright scary. It is safe to say the presiding officer would have been less conservative than Dewhurst. The average score in the Texas Senate on the 2011 Fiscal Responsibility Index was an abysmal “F”, with Republicans averaging just barely a “C.”
The process would have involved the 31 senators picking from among themselves a new presiding officer – and that likely would have occurred before the new members were sworn in, letting defeated lame ducks like liberal Republican Jeff Wentworth do the picking.
Third, a liberal-preferred replacement Republican would have owed the Democrat-minority extra favors. Committees would likely have been stacked against the conservatives.
As it stands now, the chambers’ Republicans sided with Mr. Dewhurst in his US Senate bid. Whatever else one might think of that, it means the Democrats aren’t owed any favors.
You’ll remember the temper-tantrum thrown last session by retiring senator Steve Ogden, who whined – when a spend-more, fee-hiking proposal died – that it “has always been … pretty hard to penetrate the club, but these outside groups have done it and it’s making it hard to pass” a fat-cat budget. (And so we’re clear, those “outside groups” were voting taxpayers.)
The state senate has been held back in its effectiveness for Texas’ conservative majority by virtue of internal rules seemingly designed to allow moderates and liberals to thwart serious reform. There will be fewer moderates and liberals come 2013 in the senate, with incoming senators Ken Paxton, Kelly Hancock, Larry Taylor, Charles Schwertner and Donna Campbell ready to tackle serious issues after defeating or replacing less conservative Republicans. (There is also the possibility of Republicans picking up at least one more senate seat from Democrats in the fall.)
Let’s be blunt: the lieutenant governor – like the House Speaker – is in part a moderator, shaded by the membership of his chamber. Joe Straus was made to look more conservative than he is by the GOP super-majority voters sent to Austin in 2011, while Mr. Dewhurst was saddled with a moderate-to-liberal senate.
That’s changing. No lieutenant governor in recent memory will have had as conservative of a senate to work with as Mr. Dewhurst will come January. He can manage up or manage down.
We know what down looks like. With that super-majority last Session, the Speaker and his team worked against – or at least stymied – spending limits, budget transparency and taxpayer protection. It’s hard to imagine Mr. Straus changing stripes in ‘13, given that he has spoken against the governor’s reform-focused Texas Budget Compact, will have fewer Republicans in his chamber, and 11 of his closest allies either retired or lost primary elections to conservatives. The House will continue to be unstable, or at least under-performing, for conservatives under his moderate speakership.
Contrasting that – again, setting aside the passions and rhetoric of the heated US Senate race and the federal issues at play – David Dewhurst operates from the right. Yes, he operates pragmatically (which can be frustrating), he operates politically (which can be frustrating), and he is obsessive about methodically gathering data (which can be frustrating), but his grounding is to the right-of-center.
Despite what Austin’s chatting-class might like for us to believe, the fact is that with a more strongly conservative senate Mr. Dewhurst’s style of leadership can bring right-thinking stability to the 2013 legislative session.