With no disrespect for a handful of candidates who would serve on the State Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals Court, the contest which will receive highest billing in Texas next March will be the Republican primary nomination for president. Governor Perry, who in mid-August formally declared his candidacy for the Republican Presidential Nomination, will prove to be a dramatic draw to the ballot booths in an otherwise low-key primary cycle. All except one major race, that is: the Republican nomination to succeed senior U.S. Senator Kay Hutchison.
Hutchison’s vacancy has been long awaited by a significant number of wannabe senators who spent the last three years trotting their names and resumes before the Republican faithful. This preview came based on the oft-repeated premise that if Hutchison decided to challenge incumbent Governor Rick Perry in the March 2010 primary, she would resign her senate seat. To remind the reader, she did indeed challenge Perry, but finished way behind him. She then resigned the race rather than compete in a runoff. But she did not resign her U.S. Senate seat.
On July 20, about three weeks after the Texas Legislature concluded its first called session, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst announced he would enter the race for the Hutchison seat. The 800-pound gorilla had finally spoken. At least two political aspirants quickly jumped to newly drawn Congressional seats: former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams of Weatherford and former Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams of Arlington. At this point, those campaigning for the soon-to-bevacated seat are former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, sitting Railroad Commission chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones of San Antonio, and Ted Cruz, a former high-ranking lawyer in the office of the Texas attorney general.
Following his military career, Dewhurst returned to Houston and was very successful in the energy business. After many years of experience in business and civic affairs, Dewhurst ran for the Land Commissioner in 1998 and defeated former state senator Jerry Patterson of Pasadena in the Republican primary. His stint at the General Land Office brought numerous successful reforms. In 2002, Dewhurst ran for Lieutenant Governor to succeed Bill Ratliff. Ratliff had been chosen by his colleagues in late 2000 to complete the term of Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry, who assumed the governor’s seat with the election of George W. Bush as the nation's 43rd president.
In the general election, Dewhurst defeated Democrat John Sharp by a 52-46 margin. This was Sharp's second attempt for the Lieutenant Governor slot. (In 1998, Rick Perry edged his former Texas A&M classmate by about 70,000 votes out of 3.7 million, or less than one percent.) In his reelection efforts in 2006 and 2010, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst won without breaking a sweat.
When he first came to preside over the Texas Senate, some longtime observers were skeptical that this hard-driven businessman would be able to work with thirty-one elected women and men who represented a wide-ranging political perspective, many of whom had forceful personalities. But Dewhurst very much impressed the cynics by rolling up his sleeves, taking out his notepad, and sitting through mind numbing explanations of the state budget and how exactly the machinery of state government functioned. He was a quick study and won over the membership in the senate.
By law, the power of lieutenant governor is quite limited because the position’s authority derives from the rules of the senate. And the rules of the senate are what sixteen members of that body say they are. The rules can change from session to session. So, very rapidly Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst proved himself a consummate diplomat in his dealing with the body over which he presided. And his tact and skills have been tested throughout his career in the chamber known for quietude and decorum, though behind the scenes, one is told, it can often be every bit as raucous as the House of Representatives.
During his five sessions as president of the senate, Governor Dewhurst has at least twice faced serious budget shortfalls and has led those sessions to successful conclusions.
Funding for transportation in Texas has always been a high priority for Dewhurst. He campaigned for Prop. 12 in 2007, and during this session he led the uphill effort that resulted in the issuance of the final $4 billion of the $5 billion authorized by the voters in November 2007. Issuing these bonds, which are collateralized by the state’s general fund, is the difference between a construction program dying on the vine and a program that will yield construction lettings in excess of $4 billion over the coming biennium. Surely, Governor Perry, Speaker Joe Straus, and key legislative leaders were also integral to implementing this program, but it was a top priority of Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst from the opening day of the 82nd session and he pushed it ceaselessly.
Filing for the primaries begins early this cycle; all thirty-one members of the Texas Senate are up for reelection. We will know by December 12 whether the post-session rumors about those who plan to quit or run for another office come to fruition. Filing can begin November 14. With several incumbents slated to run against a colleague in the 150-member Texas House, and with litigation challenging the new redistricting plans starting right after Labor Day, expect turbulent political weather during the next several months.