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Dewhurst Down, and Out Come the Jackals

UPDATE: Lite guv hopefuls turn on incumbent after SB 5 meltdown
Richard Whittaker, 8:18am, Thu. Jun. 27, 2013
Photo by Jana Birchum
David Dewhurst: The jackals hunt the lame duck

The battle over Senate Bill 5 was a procedural debacle. If there was a true sign of how badly the GOP's plan to abandon the rule book on Tuesday night went, it was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst skulking off the floor and handing the reins over to a progression of stand-ins.

He limped back later, just in time to stand around and look truly ineffectual as the debate faltered and flamed out. He has become a national figure of ridicule but, like any good cannibalistic species, it may be elected officials of his own party who tore out chunks fastest and deepest.

First up on deck was the king of the opportunists, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. A former state senator, still regularly seen around the Legislature, he has already thrown his hat in the ring to replace Dewhurst. Early on Wednesday he issued an all-out attack on the anti-SB 5 forces. Naming no names, he said, "Yesterday's leadership failures are a ridiculous embarrassment to the Texas Senate and to every Pro-Life advocate in the State. Even worse, the debacle is an embarrassment for the State of Texas and a gift-wrapped victory to Team Obama and his left-wing supporters."

OK, maybe he did name some names. "Despite holding the chair, the gavel, and the authority granted by the Texas Constitution – the Dewhurst leadership failed."

He wasn't the only statewide officeholder to plant their political flag in Dewhurst's still-warm political corpse. Enter Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples: Another former state senator, he clearly wants to follow the political path of Gov. Rick Perry from Legislature to Agriculture Commission to lite guv and, ultimately, a four-year sleepover at the governor's mansion. He barked, "Dewhurst clearly displayed failed leadership in the Texas Senate in front of a worldwide audience." Targeting the incumbent for dropping the ball on "a chance to pass key pro-life legislation," he then asked for a contribution to his election campaign.

Meanwhile, the eternally optimistic Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has seen another chance to rebuild his political future. Around midnight, Patrick had been gloating about how SB 5 had actually passed. Of course, he was quickly proven to be wrong (a perfect conclusion to a session in which he took an embarrassing double defeat in his attempts to pass school vouchers and end the cap on charter schools). However, it's little secret how ambitious he is, and so it was no surprise that he quickly released a Facebook poll, asking his constituents "Do you believe the failure to pass SB5 means we need a change in leadership in the Texas legislature??"

UPDATE: 12.48pm. Patrick finally threw his hat into the ring by announcing this afternoon that he will indeed be running for lieutenant governor: An interesting step, considering that (much to the chagrin of the Tea party) he endorsed Dewhurst over Ted Cruz in the US Senate primaries last year. Patrick declared, "The office of lieutenant governor is supposedly the most powerful position in the state, and a Republican has held it for over a decade. So why haven't the important issues of border security, debt and real tax relief passed? Because it depends on who the lieutenant governor is." Of course, in taking that pot shot at Dewhurst, he takes an unwitting swipe at his predecessor – Governor Rick Perry. And interestingly, at no point in his video proclamation he does mention reproductive rights.

And then there was an interesting addition to the debate from Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman. While both Patterson and Patrick are openly running to replace Dewhurst, Gov. Rick Perry appointee Smitherman is actually running for attorney general. That didn't stop him tweeting, "Couldn't sleep last night. So painful watching #sb5 die. MJ was in the Capitol with polite prolifers. Time for new leadership. #txlege"

With Perry now calling a do-over through a second special session, will Dewhurst be able to placate the super-right? Didn't do too good a job after he got pummeled by Cruz in the U.S. Senate primary, did he?

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