Winners and Losers on the Senate Committees
The shakeout from Dan Patrick's first chair shuffle
By Richard Whittaker,
11:32AM, Sun. Jan. 25, 2015
The 5pm Friday infodumps known as Texas Senate press releases began last week with the announcement by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of the Senate committee chairmanships of the 84th Legislature
Patrick had already followed through with one campaign promise: When the Senate rules were passed the week previously, he cut the number of bodies from 18 under Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to 14.
Gone are Economic Development (which is folded into Natural Resources), Government Organization, Jurisprudence, and (with no sense of irony) Open Government. That's not the lowest it's ever been, but it still means there were fewer senior positions to be split among the members.
The appointments -or lack thereof - of three senators probably caught the most attention. Two come as Patrick broke a promise to Tea Partiers and conservatives. Contrary to his previous comments that he would not name any Democrats to be committee chairs, he actually gave leadership positions to two Dems. That's dramatically down from the six last session, but more than might have been expected. However, the names are predictable. For example, in deference to rank and experience, the dean of the Senate Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, heads up Criminal Justice. Meanwhile Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, (the only Dem to vote to end the two-thirds rule) is rewarded with the top spot on Intergovernmental Relations. That said, Lucio will be the only member of the new Subcommittee on Border Security from near the border: The other two will be North Texas Republicans Brian Birdwell and Bob Hall.
The third name to garner attention? Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls. The sole GOPer to vote against ending the two-thirds rule ends up with nothing more high-profile than the vice-chairmanship of Natural Resources & Economic Development.
As for the real high profile appointments, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, took over as Senate Finance Committee chair back in July 2014 when then-chair Tommy Williams unexpectedly quit the Senate (some would say he took the wiser path by avoiding this session) and she remains chief of the most important committee. She gets an early start, with the first hearing scheduled for 9am on Wednesday, Jan. 28.
The other big committee this year, Education, goes under the control of former House Republican Caucus leader Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. That's probably a little relief for education advocates, fearful that zealous school reformer Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would get the post. But since Taylor previously authored "parent trigger" legislation that would allow charters to take over public schools, expect contentious hearings ahead.
There's even a little insult added to injury for Dems that Campbell replaces outgoing incumbent and Patrick's failed opponent for lieutenant governor Leticia Van de Putte heading up the Veteran Affairs & Military Installations committee.