The Senate Committee Shuffle
Austin's four Senators get their appointments for 2013
By Richard Whittaker, 3:30PM, Mon. Jan. 21, 2013
There's two ways to view how the great gerrymander of 2011 hit Travis County. First, that we got screwed by the lack of one centralized, unified Senate voice. Second, that now Travis has a multiplicity of voices at the committee level. Now Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has allocated the Committee chairs, and the question is whether the term delegation means much.
With the excitement normally reserved for SXSW headliner announcements, Dewhurst released the list on Jan. 18. In an interesting note about how the Senate is run, six of the 18 chairs are held by Democrats: That's a big shift from how the radical right would like to see the chambers and committee offices, with the minority party wholly excluded from decisions.
If there is any trace of collegiality among the Travis delegation (such as it is), then the county has a disproportionate voice on the Nominations committee, with three of the four Senators with constituents in its borders – Republicans Donna Campbell and Troy Fraser, and Democrat Kirk Watson – holding seats on the six-member body. However, that will be paper unity: Fraser's district is still firmly anchored in Horseshoe Bay, while Campbell seems likely to continue her district's tradition of being firmly rooted in Comal, Guadalupe and Northern Bexar.
Travis also has a good showing on Higher Ed (Watson and fellow Democrat Judith Zaffirini) and that's far more likely to yield some constructive and mutually beneficial results. It's little to do with geography, and far more to do with party unity. However, they remain two voices on a much bigger body.
As for House committees, don't hold your breath. That all comes down to Speaker Joe Straus, and he has an extremely complex job of replacing all the veteran chairs who either retired or were primaried out. He'll probably be in no mood to reward the members of his own party that went after his friends and colleagues so hard last year. Plus, the remaining 55 Democrats have a lot of seniority saved up, and that's a big qualifier in handing out appointments.
See the full list here (courtesy of Quorum Report), and here are the local headliners:
Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels: The woman that kicked Sen. Jeff Wentworth out of the primary gets some pretty good posts. Much to the chagrin of education advocates, she replaces Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, on Education. Cue one more solidly reactionary ally for pro-voucher chair Dan Patrick, R-Houston.
Nominations (Vice-chair), Education, Jurisprudence, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and Military Institutions
Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay: Retaining his chair at Natural Resources means he will become a key player in any movement to invest in water infrastructure. However, Fraser has been a loud voice for private property rights when it comes to water, meaning there will be battles ahead to create a unified water policy under his leadership.
Natural Resources (Chair), Economic Development, Nominations, State Affairs
Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo: The winner of the 'most ridiculous district in Texas' award (because the border and East Austin have so much in common), Zaffirini keeps her seat on Higher Ed, the committee she pushed hardest to form. However, that district may create some headaches, as the demands of so many diverse populations may become contradictory for the well-respected Valley veteran.
Government Organization (Chair), Administration, Finance, Health and Human Services, Higher Education
Kirk Watson, D-Austin: The prime local senator and the one with the strongest links to Austin (well, he was mayor) stays on Transportation. It will be interesting to see if he starts sewing some threads together, being on both Business and Commerce and Economic Development. Also, with his successful push for a medical school in Austin, his vice-chairmanship of Higher Ed is an interesting indication of internal dynamics.
Higher Education (Cice-chair), Business and Commerce, Economic Development, Nominations, Transportation