As Governor George W. Bush ran for President in 2000, reporters and pundits trotted out sound-bite versions of a lesson students have been taught about Texas for years: Compared to the U.S. President or the chief executives of other states, the Texas Governor occupies a "weak" office.
The main source of the relative weakness of the Texas Governor can be found in the historical conditions surrounding the Texas Constitution of 1876. Mindful of the experience of Reconstruction the period after the Civil War when Republican governors wielded extensive executive powers and were resisted by conservative elites in the state the authors of the new constitution sought to rein in future governors. They did so by dispersing power that might otherwise be lodged in the chief executive's hands among a vast array of independently elected officials. Broad powers over the legal system, state budget and finances, education, transportation, agriculture, public utilities, and land development are delegated to officials who need not share the policies nor even be of the same political party as the governor.
The dispersal of power among different officials creates what is often called the plural executive. Unlike the federal system, where the cabinet secretaries and the other top executive officers serve at the pleasure of the President, the voters elect the corresponding officials in the Texas system, giving the Governor no direct authority over them.
It is not surprising that the design of Texas government got thoroughly washed in the spin cycles of the 2000 election. Bush's supporters played up his cooperation with Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and his successes in the areas of tax reduction and education. Bipartisan leadership on these issues, his supporters argued, would also be the mark of a Bush presidency. His opponents pointed out the limitations placed on Texas governors, calling into question both the extent of Bush's experience and whether he really deserved credit for the policy initiatives trumpeted by his supporters. The Governor occupies a weak office, the critics claimed, whose success really depends on others, such as the Lieutenant Governor in this case, a powerful Democrat. So Bush was taking credit for successes he only appeared to play an important role in achieving.
These conflicting election-year claims can be examined by looking closely at the constitutional and legal arrangements that limit the Governor, and the ways in which governors have responded to these limits. The constitutional definition of the governor's office is undeniably weaker than in almost all other states. Throughout this section, we compare the Texas governor's powers with those of other governors and of the U.S. President, and find the Texas Governor with fewer resources. Yet despite the office's weaknesses, throughout Texas history, successful governors have found ways to exercise political power and promote their policies from this relatively weak office. We will focus on the office of the governor, then will briefly examine the other parts of the executive branch that also exercise influence over the lives of Texans.
2. The Governor of Texas
As discussions in the 2000 national election revealed, the design of the Texas Constitution denies the governor the opportunity to exercise powers held by governors in many other states. Unlike the U.S. President, who with Senate approval appoints his cabinet, the Texas Governor must share executive power with other executive officers. But despite having fewer resources and more limitations, modern governors can be successful in implementing their priorities and policies.
The constitutional and historical contexts that have shaped their office require governors to reconcile the public expectation of leadership with limited institutional powers. Scholars of the U.S. presidency often make the argument that the president's chief power is the power to persuade to use the attention automatically paid the president to create what Teddy Roosevelt called a bully pulpit to build support for their priorities. It is even more crucial for the Texas Governor to exercise this kind of power. With limited real executive power placed directly in the governor's hands, those who occupy the governor's mansion in Austin must find indirect and informal ways to build on their limited formal powers. Governors must be able to utilize their public position as a figurehead as the symbolic leader the public most readily identifies with state government to influence politics and policy. Using personality and image in public media to build and maintain the loyalty of both voters and powerful political elites is the key to exercising this influence.
There are different ways of sorting out just what powers the governor possesses and how to think about them. Though the Governor exercises executive powers, some observers note that governors also influence (or attempt to influence) legislative and judicial power. We can also think about the Governor in terms of roles he or she plays chief executive, chief legislator, commander-in-chief, head of state, party leader, and popular figurehead. This enables one to think about the different hats that governors must wear in performing a multidimensional job. One can also think of the Governor in terms of the formal and informal powers that governors can exercise. Formal powers are those that are clearly defined in the state constitution and in state laws. Informal powers develop from a mixture of interpretation, tradition, and the more or less implicit capabilities that come with being the Governor.
However one chooses to sort through the job of being Governor, the key objectives should be to understand these limits, to understand how effective governors effectively govern through and around those limits, and to use this understanding to make thoughtful judgments about how governors perform their duties. To accomplish this, we start by looking at the formal institutional rules that structure the governor's job.
3. The Texas Governor: The Basics
The Texas Constitution, as modified over the years by actions of the legislature, outlines the basics of the Texas governor's office.
3.1 Qualifications and Characteristics
To serve as Governor of Texas, a person must be at least thirty years old, a United States citizen, and a resident of Texas for at least five years preceding his or her election. These are the only legal requirements to hold the office. This chapter's feature Making the Cut compares qualifications in Texas to other states and to the qualifications to be president.
Voters loosened one constraint on the governor's powers in 1972 by approving a constitutional amendment to extend the term of office from two to four years. This measure went into effect in 1975, but since then the only governor to be elected to two consecutive four-year terms was George W. Bush. However, his selection as President in the middle of his second term meant that no one has yet been able to fully exploit the potential political advantages of serving two full terms.
Though personal characteristics are, of course, not requirements, there are some patterns in the group of governors elected since the Constitution of 1876. All but two governors, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson (1925-1927, 1933-1935) and Ann Richards (1991-1995), have been men, and all have been white Anglos. More governors have been trained as lawyers than any other occupation, though the previous occupations of the non-lawyer governors have varied. All Texas governors since annexation have been Protestants, mostly Baptists and Methodists. However, the significant and growing predominantly Catholic Mexican-American population of Texas, and the corresponding importance of Latinos both in the electorate and as political leaders, suggest that the pattern of Protestant governors will be broken soon. The Democratic Party nominated a Latino, businessman (and University of Texas Regent) Tony Sanchez of Laredo, as their gubernatorial candidate in 2002, but Sanchez lost by a wide margin to incumbent Rick Perry.
View a table of information and images concerning Texas Governors Since 1874.
3.2 Rewards and Perks of Office
The Governor earns a salary of $115,345 per year (as of 2005) and has use of the Governor's Mansion near the capitol in Austin. State funds also provide for use of a limousine, an aircraft, and a staff of over two hundred. The use of this staff, a valuable asset, varies depending on the officeholder, but staff are typically deployed on tasks that include working on legislation, responding to constituent problems, media relations, and a variety of political and administrative tasks ranging from issue research to promotion of the governor's political agenda. Governors are also provided a security detail that protects them whether or not they are conducting state business.
With the growth of electronic media, the governor is in a position to communicate more easily with the public than most other state officials. This capacity provides a valuable political asset that again invites comparison with the U.S. President. Like the U.S. chief executive, the Governor is a figurehead, and thus can use this unique position to grab the attention of the public. The ability to turn this position into a real political asset, though, depends on the ability of the governor and his or her political advisors to exploit this position. Bland personalities, boring or poor speaking styles, or negative publicity can reduce a governor's ability to exploit the unique properties of the office. The governor shares some of this ability with other officials of the plural executive, though in the eyes of the public the governor is the official most immediately identified with state government.
The success of state governors in the presidential arena in recent years, along with Texas's status as the second most populous state, has led to plenty of talk about governors as potential presidents. But with the exception of George W. Bush, Texas governors have not often used the office as a springboard into national politics, and those who have tried have met with limited success. In the post-World War II era, Governor John Connally (1963-1969) was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Richard Nixon after serving as governor, but he was unsuccessful when he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. In the pre-war era, three governors successfully ran for U.S. Senate seats, but more than twice that many governors or former governors have attempted to gain election to the Senate and failed.
Governors have been more successful pursuing political, legal, and business opportunities in Texas than they have been in becoming national leaders. Whether the fortunes of President Bush and his predecessor Ann Richards, who has remained visible as a Democratic voice in the national media (though not as an elected or appointed official), signal a change in this pattern remains to be seen.
As in the U.S. Constitution, the only legal method of removing a governor from office is through the process of impeachment and conviction. Impeachment is the process of accusing an official of misconduct in office and is similar to the process of indictment by a grand jury. Impeachment is only a formal accusation it is not a determination of guilt or innocence. This judgment requires a trial.
Efforts to remove a governor begin in the Texas House of Representatives, which must cast a majority vote in favor of impeachment. Such a vote amounts to bringing formal charges against a governor. The Texas Constitution, however, does not provide any specific grounds for impeachment, leaving such judgments in the hands of the Legislature. Again, this is similar to the national constitution; impeachment is based on the commission of "high crimes and misdemeanors," but after more than two hundred years there is still no consensus what this phrase means in practice.
Impeachment is followed by a trial in the Texas Senate. The House is charged with prosecuting the case, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas (an elected position) presiding over the proceedings (i.e., acting as the judge in the case). Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of the senators present. If convicted, a governor is removed from office and disqualified from holding any other state office. James Ferguson (1915-1917) is the only governor to be impeached and convicted. Any member of the executive or judicial branch can be impeached and tried.
Like the impeachment and removal procedure at the federal level, the state constitution provides for a process that is an amalgam of judicial and political elements. Elected officials initiate and carry out the process, but the procedures have a judicial flavor to them that invites elected officials to sit in objective judgment akin to the role played by a jury in a court proceeding. Given the difficulty political actors may have judging objectively, the Constitution ensures that the process will be used rarely.
According to the Texas Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor should the office become vacant due to the death, resignation, or removal of the Governor. The Lieutenant Governor also serves as acting Governor when the Governor is out of state, a factor which has come into play in recent years due to the national roles played by Texas governors Richards and Bush. Richards actively campaigned for Bill Clinton in 1992 and frequently traveled out of the state. Bush's presidential candidacy also found him outside the state campaigning, enabling then Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry to gain experience and public exposure in the office he would ultimately occupy on a full-time basis. Such situations provide a financial bonus for the lieutenant governor, whose regular salary is $20 per day, but he or she earns the governor's pay rate of $316 per day when serving as acting governor.
Legislation sets the chain of succession after the Lieutenant Governor, with the governorship passing to the President pro tempore of the Texas Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Attorney General, and the Chief Judges of the Texas Courts of Appeals in ascending order.
The chain of succession specified by the Texas Constitution differs from the United States Constitution: Texas succession incorporates Courts of Appeals, rather than department heads of the executive branch.
4. Institutional Powers of the Governnor
For many months leading up to the gubernatorial election, news coverage and advertisements bombard potential voters with political appeals, information, and "expert opinions" about the best person for the job. All of this attention naturally leads to the expectation that the Governor must have enormous influence over politics and policy in the state. The public, and even some governors, are surprised to discover the limited powers and resources that are actually available to the Governor. To be sure, the Governor exercises vast resources compared to the average citizen; but expectations far surpass the actual powers vested in the Governor. View a table comparing policy powers of the Texas governor's office with governors of other states.
What happened to the executive powers we expect to find in a governor's hands? In Texas, they are dispersed throughout the executive branch of the state government, in a series of elected offices, commissions, and boards. Because several elected officials share many of the powers typically invested in one office, the term often used to refer to these arrangements is the plural executive. The dispersal of executive powers among the different elements of the executive branch requires the Governor to use carefully those powers that are put directly in his or her hands.
A significant resource that governors may use to build support and accomplish political goals is the power of appointment. About 200 boards, commissions, and agencies oversee the daily operation of government, and the governor makes several hundred appointments to these various entities.
These appointments allow the Governor to place allies in strategic locations in state government a critical asset in his or her efforts to establish and carry out policies. Governors can also use the appointment power to reward political supporters, a practice known as patronage. Supporters can be awarded government jobs, which can also be used to curry favor with rival political leaders and office holders. These uses of political appointments are mutually reinforcing: rewards for past support are likely to increase future support from appointed office holders.
Appointments can also be used to establish a political tone to signal a governor's intention to pursue a particular political or policy strategy. Governor Ann Richards appointed unprecedented numbers of minorities and women, solidifying her liberal Democratic base of support and signaling her intention to follow through on her campaign theme of building a "New Texas." In 2001, Rick Perry attempted to follow through on his promise to encourage bipartisanship by appointing Democrat Henry Cuellar, a Mexican-American legislator from Laredo, to the office of Secretary of State. Governors find out early, though, that the interpretations of these messages can be difficult to control. Skeptics and political opponents saw Richards's appointments as patronage and too race-conscious. And there was widespread suspicion that Cuellar's appointment was also meant to foster divisions among Democrats.
The governor's appointment power is limited by the requirement that two-thirds of the Senate confirm appointments. The confirmation process is also shaped by the unwritten tradition of senatorial courtesy. This custom allows the senator of the district in which a nominee lives to effectively veto the appointment. If a senator objects to a nomination, his or her colleagues in the Senate respect the objection and will not vote to confirm. However, the Legislature must be in session to effectively exercise this veto. If a vacancy occurs while the Legislature is not in session (and it regularly meets for less than six months every two years), appointees can serve in the position until the Senate convenes and takes up confirmations. So a governor may make an interim appointment even knowing the nominee will later be rejected. The nominee gets to serve for a limited period of time and perhaps can even use the opportunity to convince enough senators that he or she should keep the post.
There is a further limitation on the governor's appointment power. Most appointees of the various boards and commissions serve staggered terms (six-year). Texas law does not grant governors the ability to fire their predecessors' appointees, so unless there is an unusual number of deaths or resignations, it will be several years into a governor's term before most boards and commissions are controlled by his or her appointees.
Though skillful governors can and have used their appointment powers to good effect, there are real limits to those powers created by Texas's plural executive system. Voters elect several key offices the most important being the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, and the Comptroller of Public Accounts. Read more about powers and responsibilities of these officials in The Plural Executive.
These officials don't necessarily feel loyalty to the Governor, and may use their position to cause headaches for the state's chief executive. During his term as Attorney General, Mark White was frequently at odds with Republican Governor Bill Clements and used his position as a platform for challenging and defeating Clements in the 1982 election. White and Clements were in different parties, but the plural executive can also fuel conflicts within a party, as when Jim Mattox used his position as Attorney General to challenge Ann Richards, then the state Treasurer, for the Democratic nomination in the hard-fought 1990 gubernatorial primary.
These conflicts illustrate one of the purposes of the creation of the plural executive: to take some power out of the hands of the governor and spread it around to other positions in the executive branch. This characteristic of the Texas Constitution illustrates a variation of one of the characteristics of the U.S. Constitution: the avoidance of placing too much power in any one office or person. In the Texas Constitution, this characteristic is evident not only in the separation of powers among the different branches of government, but also within the executive branch itself.
4.2 Budgetary Powers
The Texas Governor also exercises less influence over the budget process than the U.S. President or many other governors. The legislature takes the lead in the budget process, leaving the Governor with the opportunity to speak publicly of priorities but with little influence on the formal budgeting process. The ten-member Legislative Budget Board (LBB) holds most of the authority. The Lieutenant Governor is the Chair of the LBB, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives is Vice Chair. The Chairs of the House Appropriations Committee, House Committee on Ways and Means, Senate Finance Committee, and Senate State Affairs Committee are also automatically seated on the board. The Lieutenant Governor appoints two additional members of the Senate, and the House Speaker appoints two additional members of the House. The Governor delivers a budget message, but it has no binding authority. It is up to the Governor to persuade legislators to pay attention to his or her agenda.
Law allows the Governor to depart from the budget by transferring money between programs or agencies to meet emergency needs, though such transfers must be approved by the LBB. The LBB can also initiate such transfers, subject to the approval of the Governor. In the event of a shortfall requiring such a transfer, a skillful Governor might be in a position to use of one of the assets of the office, the ability to get the public's attention and lead the agenda of public discussion, perhaps putting the LBB (and political opponents) on the defensive. A Governor with standing in the eyes of the public will be able to call attention to a budgetary need and put the LBB in the position of having to say "no." However, the Governor must be able to convince the public and the key actors in the process that the need is real.
Governors can try to thwart legislative budget priorities after the fact by vetoing legislation at the end of the legislative process. But the veto is a blunt instrument, and some will interpret its extensive use for budgetary reasons as a sign that the Governor is either too weak or lacks the political skill to influence the budget process in more direct and positive ways. Governor Bill Clements's extensive use of the veto in 1979, for example, left him open to criticism that he was a political novice and that, as the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, he was eager to do partisan battles with Democrats dominating state government. Governor Rick Perry's record 82 vetoes of legislation passed during the 2001 session received a barrage of criticism from both parties. Perry, however, successfully characterized the vetoes as controlling government growth during his 2002 reelection campaign. To look at a comprehensive discussion of the veto, browse ahead to section 5.1.
4.3 Military and Police Powers
The Texas Constitution names the Governor the commander-in-chief of the Texas National Guard when the state's units have not been placed under the command of the U.S. President. (Article II of the U.S. Constitution names the President commander-in-chief of the state national guards when they are mobilized for national service.) The Adjutant General, whom the Governor appoints, heads Texas Guard units. Though Texas Guard units can be dispatched to respond to situations such as civil unrest, they are more commonly used to aid in natural disasters or other forms of emergency relief in which local emergency services need additional resources.
Though most law enforcement and police investigation responsibilities rest in the hands of city and county governments, the Governor also has limited police powers. The Governor (with Senate approval) appoints the members of the Public Safety Commission, which directs the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The Governor can also assume command of the Texas Rangers (a division of the DPS) under some circumstances, although this is a rare event.
5. The Governor and the Legislature
A successful governor encourages the passage of legislation consistent with his or her political agenda and successfully prevents legislation at odds with this agenda. The Texas Constitution, however, grants the Governor precious few formal tools for managing this relationship. The Constitution requires the chief executive to establish a basic level of communication with the Legislature by mandating that the Governor deliver an opening, budget, and closing message to the Legislature.
Successful governors use personal influence, their staff, and lobbyists to manage relations with the legislature during the session. As governors have become able to use mass electronic media, primarily television, to build political support, they have gained a powerful source of additional influence in their bargaining relationships with legislators. A governor, however, must still be skillful in using the basic institutional channels of influencing the legislature to achieve political and policy successes.
5.1 The Veto
One of the basic powers the Governor exercises over the legislative process is the veto, which enables governors to nullify bills, concurrent resolutions, and appropriation items. A skillful governor can use the threat of the veto to influence legislation during the session. The veto can also be used as a last resort intervention in the budget process to affect spending priorities at the end of a legislative session. Look at the "vetoes" column on the interactive governors table to review governors' use of the veto.
The power to veto specific budget items, called the line-item veto, adds another dimension to the governor's veto power. The line-item veto provides a surgical tool that governors can use to cut elements out of a bill without vetoing the entire measure. But as with other vetoes, a governor who has not laid the political groundwork for such action may be subject to criticism and can expect to be called upon publicly to justify such action in high-visibility cases.
If a governor neither signs nor vetoes a bill, it automatically becomes law without the governor's signature. This is in contrast to the process at the federal level, which in some circumstances allows a president to kill a bill without signing it or vetoing it. This process is called the pocket veto, and it is not available to Texas governors.
5.2 Limits of the Veto
While the veto is a valuable resource for a generally hamstrung executive, there are procedural and political limits placed upon the governors' latitude in wielding this tool.
Procedurally, vetoes are not absolute. The legislature may reverse a veto by a vote of two-thirds of each chamber, a process called an override. However, the veto override is relatively rare due to the way in which the rules regulating the exercise of the veto work in tandem with the rhythm of the legislature's traditional schedule.
The state Constitution gives the Governor ten days after receiving a bill to either sign it or veto it. Signing the bill passes it into law, vetoing it returns it to the Legislature with a veto message explaining the governor's reasons for rejecting the measure. If the Legislature is in session at the time of the veto, legislators may attempt to reverse the veto or perhaps pass modified legislation that responds to the governor's objections. If the legislative session ends within ten days of the governor's receipt of any legislation, however, the Governor has another twenty days from adjournment to act on any such pending bills. Because there is typically a last-minute rush to pass legislation, the Governor frequently receives most bills within the last ten days of the session. This provides governors not only with extra time to consider bills but also creates a powerful advantage. If the Legislature is out of session, it cannot meet to vote on overrides, so any vetoes the Governor casts after the end of the session will be final.
The political limitations upon the veto power are subtler and have in many cases shaped governors' political fortunes. While vetoes can seem like an authoritative exercise of power a bid to demonstrate decisive leadership they may also be viewed as a sign of a governor's difficulty or even failure to deal effectively with legislators. Thus, the veto needs to be used strategically. Legislators who work long and hard on legislation may feel blindsided and less likely to cooperate in the future when a governor vetoes their legislation particularly if the governor has not effectively communicated his or her priorities on legislation. Legislators may feel set up and ambushed by a governor who remains aloof during the session then vetoes a large amount of legislation.
George W. Bush, for example, avoided such a situation by courting legislators and fostering a practical working relationship with Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney, both Democrats. He vetoed an average number of bills during his legislative sessions (24 in 1995, 36 in 1997, and 31 in 1999), which was comparable to the number of vetoes cast by his predecessor Ann Richards. On the other hand, a sign of Republican Bill Clements's stormy relationship with the Democratic legislature was his 184 vetoes more than any other governor. Governor Rick Perry made headlines when he set a record for single session vetoes in 2001: 82. That was only nine fewer in one session than Bush had cast in three sessions, and twenty-two more than Richards cast in two sessions.
5.3 Special Sessions
Governors can also attempt to shape the legislative process by invoking their constitutional authority to call special sessions of the Legislature. The purpose of a special session is to focus attention on a particular problem or to respond to a particular crisis. These sessions may last no more than thirty days and may only consider agenda items specified by the Governor. This places a premium on the precise wording used when the Governor calls for a special session. A carelessly worded order for a special session could provide legislators with an opportunity to subvert the governor's intentions and consider legislation of their own choosing.
Legislators, as a rule, have little enthusiasm for calling special sessions, and this can work to a governor's advantage. Legislators earn only a part-time salary from the state, and so any extra time in session takes most of them away from their primary occupations and from other parts of their personal lives. Consequently, the threat of a special session may spur action in the legislature. For their part, legislators can call a governor's bluff and use a session to outmaneuver the governor for example, by passing legislation that the governor will not sign or forcing the governor to sign legislation inconsistent with his or her goals.
This can turn into a complicated game of chicken, with legislators and the governor waiting for the other side to turn away from confrontation. Not surprisingly, special sessions are unusual, and many of them have yielded political wrecks.
6. Message Power: Formal and Informal
Governors possess the message power, so named because of the constitutional requirement that the Governor deliver a message to open the legislative session, a biennial budget message, and a retirement message at the end of the session. The Governor can also deliver special "emergency" messages while the Legislature is in session.
The so-called message power contains an important informal dimension. Despite the limitations on his or her formal powers, the governor occupies a unique position in the state and the political system. When the governor addresses groups and makes speeches or statements, his or her agendas and priorities are routinely transmitted through coverage by news media. Thus, although the governor's statements may have no binding authority, they can set a tone for the entire state government.
When used skillfully, this access to media exposure partially compensates for the governor's limited formal powers. But using media exposure requires skill, which usually comes not just from the Governor, but also from advisers and consultants who are paid to help the governor come up with strategy and tactics for using media effectively.
Using the "message power" can also backfire in countless ways. Governors who use their access to the public to attempt to force action by other political figures can be publicly outmaneuvered, and perhaps have a bluff called in an all-too-public way. Also, a mistake or a verbal gaffe can turn a public relations offensive into a high-visibility embarrassment. Though the message power has become one of the powers governors are least likely to lose and most likely to use to their advantage, exercising it effectively requires skill, strategy, and perhaps even a little luck. Governors are granted the power to persuade, as was mentioned earlier. But there is no guarantee that every governor will successfully exploit this power.
7. The Governor and the Judiciary
Because judges at all levels of the Texas judiciary are elected, the Governor exercises less power over the judiciary than the U.S. President, who makes all appointments to the federal judiciary. Yet governors do get some opportunities to influence the state judiciary, because the Governor appoints judges to fill vacancies that result from death, removal, resignation, or the creation of new courts by the legislature. These appointed judges will have the advantage of incumbency should they seek reelection. The Governor also has limited powers of clemency, which gives him or her the capacity to grant relief from criminal punishment. Unlike governors in many states, the Texas Governor cannot independently issue a pardon or sentence commutation. In death penalty cases, the Governor can issue one thirty-day reprieve. He or she can also make recommendations to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and can either approve or reject the board's recommendations on pardons or sentence reductions.
Prior to a 1934 constitutional amendment, the Governor had independent pardon powers. The amendment removing these powers was added after Jim and Miriam Ferguson were accused of selling clemency during her term as Governor. In modern times, governors have used what clemency powers they have been left with sparingly. As the application of the death penalty in the state has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism, and new technology has been made available to review old cases, governors have used reprieves to deflect criticism by allowing for further review of death penalty cases. These incidents have been rare, given the weak opposition to capital punishment. In cases where there is some compelling question about carrying out an execution, governors are ultimately in a safe position. Granting a thirty-day reprieve can appear judicious but not overly soft on criminals, as the governor cannot prevent an execution on his or her own. Yet in the event a mistake is found and a wrongful execution prevented, the governor is likely to appear careful and just. Still, Texas governors have granted such reprieves relatively rarely.
8. Governors of Texas
As the discussion of the governors' powers suggests, Texas chief executives are greeted with high expectations but limited power to meet those expectations. With little ability to lead the legislature, few constitutional means of control over the bureaucracy, and surrounded by executives that may be political rivals or even enemies, the governor is still looked upon as the political leader of the state. These expectations are the double-edged sword that defines the political position of the Texas Governor. Governors must be able to meet expectations in order to win reelection and stay in office, even though these expectations often overestimate the governor's capabilities.
Using the visibility of the office without being hamstrung by its limitations requires a mixture of political skill, personality, and lucky timing. A knack for negotiation and powers of persuasion are necessary to attempt to induce cooperation and compromise from legislators and elected officials who won't simply do as they're told. Conditions beyond a governor's control will also test each one's talent, political skill, and even his or her personality as each chief executive is forced to deal with economic cycles and unforeseen crises. For some, difficulties become opportunities to demonstrate leadership; for others, an economic downturn or a natural disaster force their administration off the rails. And sometimes, there may be no single event the timing is just bad for a particular governor.
A look back on the terms of recent governors shows just how tricky it can be to get this mixture of political support, skill, personality, and luck right. Bill Clements (1979-1983, 1987-1991) played an historic role as the first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction, but being out front in the shift in Republican fortunes made for a tough time getting along with Democrats in the legislature. This situation was not helped by his lack of political experience and his aloofness from legislators. Both Clements and Mark White (1983-1987) were swamped by the major economic downturn that lasted from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.
Ann Richards came in on the tail end of the economic crash but benefited from her engaging, often aggressive personal style, and from a political approach that energized core Democratic constituencies such as ethnic and racial minorities and women. She established a solid if unremarkable legislative record, but despite what seemed like ample personal popularity, she was defeated for reelection by George W. Bush. Bush benefited from his compromising approach with key Democrats, a carefully calibrated set of political objectives, and, uniquely, anticipation of his impending run for the presidency during his final legislative session as Governor.
Yet despite Bush's popularity, successor Rick Perry faced his first legislative session amidst a sense that Bush's successes had been overrated. Cleaning up after Bush's attention-grabbing tax reduction measures was necessary and it was Perry's responsibility to boot. In a number of ways, the early part of Perry's term was shaped by his need to come out from Bush's shadow without directly criticizing the popular Texan who now occupied the White House.
9. The Plural Executive
The plural executive in Texas limits the power of the Governor by distributing power usually associated with a chief executive among many elected political leaders. The only executive official appointed by the Governor is the Secretary of State. Other officials are elected independently and do not campaign for office as a unified slate. They do not have to answer to the Governor, nor do they work together as a cabinet in the way that executive officials serve the U.S. President. Party leadership may encourage unity among candidates, but the campaign organizations operate independently of each other. Compare this to the national campaign organization of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, which is one entity and one choice on the ballot.
This arrangement produces an executive branch whose officials jealously guard their jurisdiction, their power, and their prerogatives. In short, everyone defends his or her turf, and the Governor lacks any formal power to dictate or referee. The Governor is often the nominal head of his or her party in the state, but this does not offset the institutional political base other executives possess. As a result, the executive branch lacks cohesion, with different executives and their agencies often pursuing different goals. Some of the attempts by the framers of the 1876 Constitution to hamstring the Governor, like the short two-year term, have been undone by constitutional amendment; other limitations have been undermined by historical change, like the development of mass media. These changes notwithstanding, the plural executive has proven a durable legacy of the 1876 authors, much to the frustration of many governors.
9.1 Secretary of State
The primary and most visible responsibility of the Texas Secretary of State is the administration of elections. The Secretary of State oversees the voter registration process, including cooperating in voter registration drives with civic and service organizations such as the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization that encourages registration and informed voting. The Secretary of State also keeps records of all debt and Uniform Commercial Code filings. Every time someone borrows money from a bank or any other financial institution in the state, a copy of the loan agreement is filed with the Secretary of State's office.
In the Texas political universe, the Secretary of State is the highest-ranking official appointed by the Governor (with Senate approval) rather than elected by the voters. Though some critics downgrade the office's importance, the Secretary of State has ample opportunity to build statewide support, and past secretaries have used the post to build name recognition among the public and run for another statewide office.
The current Secretary of State is Roger Williams, appointed by Governor Perry in 2005.
9.2 Lieutenant Governor
The Lieutenant Governor is a member of the executive branch but also plays the official role of President of the Senate. The Lieutenant Governor has some executive responsibilities, such as serving as acting governor when the Governor is out of the state, and is the first in the line of succession should the Governor be unable to perform his or her duties.
The Lieutenant Governor's primary powers lie in the office's authority and influence in the legislature. The Lieutenant Governor appoints the committees of the Senate, a considerable power since committees generally control specific policy areas, and also assign bills to specific Senate committees. Generally, the various committees have responsibility over specific areas of public policy. But, the rules for assignment to committee are weak enough that they give the Lieutenant Governor considerable discretion in assigning bills to committee.
The Lieutenant Governor also casts the deciding vote in case of a tie, and serves as chairman of the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Council. He or she is vice-chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislative Education Board, and when the Legislative Redistricting Board convenes (if the legislature is unable to approve a redistricting plan for both houses), the Lieutenant Governor serves as one of the five members. These official roles, coupled with the legislative influence of the office, make the Lieutenant Governorship significantly different from the office that seems a natural comparison. View a table comparing powers of number two executives.
The Lieutenant Governor has exerted growing influence in lawmaking and in administration and public policy since World War II. This may result partly from two changes to the office over the course of the 20th century.
First, the length of the term of office was constitutionally extended from two to four years beginning with the election of 1974. Second, lieutenant governors have served ever more numerous terms since the 1890s. Until then, it was customary for lieutenant governors not to seek reelection to a second term. Over the next few decades, two different lieutenant governors were elected to third terms. And, in the post-World War II period, Ben Ramsey was elected to a record six terms (1951-1961) and Bill Hobby was elected to five terms (1973-1991). Hobby actually served more years than Ramsey because four of his five terms were for four years. The increased longevity in office can significantly increase the informal influence and legislative expertise of lieutenant governors, and enables them to consolidate their control over the committees. Most recently, the greater intensity of electoral competition for the office of Lieutenant Governor between the two major parties may work against the tendency toward reelection.
The current lieutenant governor, Republican David Dewhurst, was elected in 2002, when he defeated former Comptroller John Sharp.
9.3 Attorney General
The Attorney General (AG) is the chief lawyer for the state government and is elected to a four-year term. Unlike the office's counterpart at the national level, the Attorney General's legal role is primarily civil rather than criminal. Any time a suit is filed against or by the state, the AG's office handles the related legal activities. Prominent recent examples include the suit against the major tobacco companies filed by several states in the 1990s, which then-Attorney General Dan Morales spearheaded on Texas's behalf, and the defense of Texas's school financing system, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Morales's handling of both of these high visibility cases received renewed attention when Morales sought to become the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2002. His efforts to gain the nomination failed.
Though candidates for Attorney General usually emphasize crime issues and their law and order credentials when they campaign for office, most law enforcement and criminal matters are handled at the city and county level. The Attorney General's role is limited to providing support and advice to these officials and promoting public awareness on crime and safety issues. The Attorney General may also assist in a particular criminal case at the request of local prosecutors if the case involves a state interest.
The Attorney General can have a significant impact on public policy when he or she issues opinions on the legality or constitutionality of proposed or enacted laws or on the actions or policies of government agencies. Any state or local government office can request a legal opinion from the Attorney General, and the resulting opinion has the effect of law unless it is altered or overturned by the legislature or a court. Opinions thus have an impact on existing law and can become a powerful public platform for the Attorney General to further his or her political ambition. Many opinions, though, are largely technical and mundane. The Attorney General's web site contains extensive information on past and pending opinions and illustrates the variety of matters on which the office receives requests for opinions.
Seemingly trivial technicalities notwithstanding, the Attorney General can become involved in a wide range of high-profile public policy issues, which keeps the office in the public eye. Among the issues various office holders have promoted in recent years are environmental issues, health protection, civil rights, and consumer issues such as product safety, deceptive advertising, and fraud protection. In most of these cases, action on particular issues reflected the priorities of specific officeholders. Dan Morales (1991-1999) joined lawsuits against tobacco companies on his own initiative, an action that eventually resulted in a $17.3 billion judgment in the state's favor. His successor John Cornyn, who opposed such large damage judgments, investigated work on the tobacco settlement done by lawyers hired by Morales. These lawyers had earned approximately $3.3 billion in legal fees. (The investigation received considerable public attention, and Morales was sentenced to four years in prison in 2003 for crimes related to his attempt to funnel part of the legal fees to a friend.)
One of the most significant and sensitive areas of action by the Attorney General is child support collection. Attorneys General Jim Mattox (1983-1991) and Dan Morales (1991-1999) emphasized child support payments as an important part of their office's duties, although in the mid-1990s the office came under criticism by the public and in the legislature for the office's low collection rate and other problems, which ultimately resulted in closer legislative oversight of child support services. Performing these services is a huge job: in fiscal year 2000, the office collected over one billion dollars in child support payments. This capped a decade of increases in collections as the office became increasingly focused on the issue.
Because the office also defends the state against suits, attorneys general are not able to choose all of their battles and can find themselves defending policies they would not otherwise choose to defend. Recent attorneys general have been involved in defending state law and policies on public school financing, Texas's method of selecting judges, the constitutionality of the state prison system, and state redistricting plans.
Attorney General Greg Abbott was elected to the office in 2002, and succeeded fellow Republican John Cornyn, who successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in the same election after being elected AG in 1998.
9.4 Comptroller of Public Accounts
The Comptroller of Public Accounts is elected to a four-year term and is responsible for tax collection, accounting, and estimating revenue for the state and acts as the custodian of state funds and investments. The constitutional provisions governing state budgeting and spending, and the combination of several economic and financial duties in one office, make the Comptroller more powerful than it may seem at first glance.
The Comptroller's job may seem dry and technical, but a critical part of the Comptroller's constitutional responsibility puts him or her squarely in the middle of the highly political legislative budget process. Texas operates under a balanced budget requirement or pay-as-you-go principle meaning that by law the state legislature cannot adopt a budget that exceeds anticipated revenue. Simply put, the Legislature is formally forbidden from spending more than it collects. It is the Comptroller's responsibility to deliver a revenue forecast and to certify that the budget passed by the legislature is within that revenue estimate. In short, as Comptroller John Sharp (1991-1999) put it, "the legislature can't spend more than you say it can." Overriding the Comptroller's action requires a nearly impossible four-fifths majority in both houses of the legislature, and though Comptroller Robert M. Love was shot to death at his desk in the Capitol in 1903, neither he nor any other Comptroller has ever been overridden. 
The Comptroller's taxation and budget responsibilities include a diverse range of duties and services, including collecting the various taxes imposed by the state (for example sales tax, motor fuel tax, inheritance tax) and facilitating payment of those taxes by providing forms, schedules, and other taxpayer assistance. Returning abandoned money and property is also the Comptroller's duty, a job facilitated in recent years by the World Wide Web. Use the Comptroller's search engine to find out if you or someone you know has unclaimed property in his or her name.
The abolition of the office of Treasurer in 1996 transferred additional power to the hands of the Comptroller. When the Treasurer's office was eliminated, state banking responsibilities were added to the comptroller's traditional tax and revenue duties. The Comptroller had previously performed a job akin to being the state's chief accountant; now, the office also manages state funds. This additional role entails investing state deposits so as to generate additional revenue. Some responsibility in this area is shared with the State Depository Board, which authorizes financial institutions to receive state funds.
Comptrollers may be prominent contestants in the political arena because of their strategic position at the crossroads of key policy areas such as taxation, budgeting, and finance. Bob Bullock, one of the major figures in state politics for three decades, was Comptroller from 1975 to 1991, and used his long tenure as a platform for his successful efforts to be elected Lieutenant Governor. His successor, John Sharp (1991-1999), also had a long stay in the position and also subsequently attempted to win the Lieutenant Governor's office twice (in 1998 and 2002), losing both times. Current Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn won election to the office after a successful political career in Austin that included being mayor and subsequently serving on the State Insurance Board and on the Texas Railroad Commission. In another indication of the shift in party politics in the last two decades in Texas, she is the first Republican to be elected Comptroller, and was reelected by a wide margin in 2002.
9.5 Commissioner of the General Land Office
1 John Sharp, "Dear Carole," Texas Monthly, link: www.texasmonthly.com/biz/1999/jun/carole.1.html. Quoted in Ginsberg, Lowi, Weir, We the People, 3rd edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001, p. 955.
The Land Commissioner, as the head of the General Land Office is known, gains power and significance as a result of the large amount of public land in the state and the resources, particularly energy, that are found on many of these lands. He or she is elected to a four-year term.
The General Land Office administers the use of all state-owned lands. This responsibility includes leasing for gas and oil production, mining, and grazing, and monitoring the environmental quality of public lands and waters. The office also operates the veterans' land program, in which state bonds are used to underwrite loans to military veterans for land purchases.
The Land Commissioner authorizes exploration and exploitation of public lands, so the Commissioner's decisions affect hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. This also has a significant impact on state government and services, as the General Land Office generates hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties on oil and gas extracted from state lands.
Like much of the southern region of the United States, environmental protection, particularly along the coast, has frequently been treated as secondary to generating economic growth. The Land Office has often come under criticism for doing too little to protect coastal areas. Recent years, however, have seen increased efforts to monitor coastlines and respond to water quality problems as they are detected. The implementation of a beach monitoring program coordinated by the Land Office resulted in an improvement in the state's ratings by environmental groups that monitor coastal water quality, though Texas was one of the last states to undertake such efforts. 
As with similar offices in other states and at the federal level (for example, the Department of the Interior), the Land Commissioner must reconcile the economic use of natural resources with environmental protection and conservation. State lands are a valuable source of revenue, particularly given that the state cannot draw on an income tax for revenue and that a significant share of oil and gas royalties are dedicated to public education. These issues are particularly acute in the coastal areas, where the state owns four million acres of submerged lands and all of the beaches. The General Land Office is thus under intense pressure both to exploit and preserve public lands, generating equally intense interest in elections.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson served as a state senator before being elected in 2002. He succeeded David Dewhurst, who used the office as a platform for his successful campaign to be elected Lieutenant Governor. Both are Republicans.
9.6 Commissioner of Agriculture
2 Tony Freemantle, "Monitoring helps Texas lose 'beach bum' status," Houston Chronicle, 8 August 2001, link: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/metropolitan/998273
A commissioner elected to a four-year term heads the Department of Agriculture, which enforces all agricultural laws in Texas. These laws cover matters as diverse as food inspection, animal quarantine laws, licensing, disease and pest control (including pesticide safety), and promoting exports. As a legacy of its traditional duties regulating weights and measures think grocery and produce scales the department conducts annual checks on gas pumps to ensure their accuracy.
Texas is the second leading overall agricultural producer in the United States, ranking behind only California, making the Commissioner of Agriculture another key position in the plural executive branch. As large-scale corporate producers have displaced small producers in the agricultural economy, the agriculture commissioner's regulatory decisions and policies have become matters of interest to major economic actors in the state. The Commissioner is thus another executive officer that is called upon to balance interests in consumer and environmental protection with the promotion of economic production.
Recent commissioners have emphasized different priorities in managing the trade-offs in these frequently conflicting duties. Commissioner Jim Hightower (1983-1991) was known as a progressive in the populist tradition when he was elected to the office, and he pursued policies that departed from the traditional priorities of the office. Hightower promoted tighter regulation of pesticides, promoted organic food production, and attempted to increase education and notification of workers about pesticides. Hightower received abundant attention for his initiatives, but he also became the first Democratic executive other than a governor to lose an election to a Republican. (Rick Perry, former Democrat and future governor, defeated him in the 1990 general election.)
The current commissioner, Republican Susan Combs, succeeded Perry and is the first woman to hold the office. She was reelected in 2002.
9.7 Elected Boards and Commissions
The executive branch also includes several boards and commissions that are constituted through a mixture of elections and gubernatorial appointments confirmed by the Senate. The overall effect of these boards and commissions is consistent with the plural executive concept that characterizes Texas government: governors with sufficient political skill and long enough tenures in office can have an impact on the boards. However, two of the most important bodies, the Texas Railroad Commission and the State Board of Education, are selected by voters. Even with the Governor appointing several members of other boards and commissions, the overall effect is a sprawling network of administrative bodies that neither governors nor the Legislature are able to coordinate or completely control.
9.8 Railroad Commission
The Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) has three members who are selected in statewide elections and serve staggered terms (six-year). Despite the narrow connotations of its title, the TRRC possesses a broad mandate and has traditionally been one of the most powerful bodies in the state government. The Commission, of course, regulates state and interstate railroads. But the body is also charged with regulating the oil and gas industry, trucking, and mining. Given the historic importance of oil and gas to the Texas economy, regulatory duties related to this industry have traditionally been the commission's most important responsibility.
The Railroad Commission provides an example of an agency that has evolved in response to historical changes in the state and the nation. The Commission was created in response to the popular demand for more control over railroads in the late nineteenth century. Populists succeeded in establishing a system of regulating railroad monopolies that would be carried out by elected regulators. As the oil and gas industries developed early in the next century and sought to integrate their production and distribution operations, they ran into another obstacle put in their way by populists state restrictions on monopoly market arrangements. A compromise was struck in which large-scale petroleum and natural gas corporations were allowed to grow, but oil and gas pipelines were placed under the regulatory authority of the Railroad Commission. The TRRC's role has faded somewhat in recent years. With deregulation of many of its areas of jurisdiction and the declining importance of oil and gas in the state economy, the Commission is not as powerful as in the middle decades of the century. 
Ironically, given the commission's origins, in recent decades it has been seen as responsive to oil and gas interests in the state. In 1994, for the first time in the commission's history, all three members were Republicans, yet another reflection of the shift in the voting population toward Republicans, and the Commission has remained solidly Republican since then.
The current chair of the Commission is Victor Carrillo, who was appointed by Governor Rick Perry when President George W. Bush named former Chairman Tony Garza U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
9.9 State Board of Education
3 See David Prindle, Petroleum Politics and the Texas Railroad Commission. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.
The State Board of Education (SBOE) is created by the Texas Constitution to implement a constitutional mandate to maintain a free public education system. Though currently an elected body, the State Board of Education underwent seesaw changes in recent decades. It was originally created as an elected body, but one of several public school reforms passed in 1984 made it an appointed board. In 1987, Texans voted by a wide margin to return to an elective board, though, as with many other positions in Texas government, the Governor appoints a replacement if a seat becomes vacant between elections. The fifteen board members represent districts across the state, and serve four-year terms. However, since 1995, the Governor appoints the Commissioner of Education (an administrative post, not a voting member of the board) as well as the board's chairperson. On the Internet, Texas residents can identify the SBOE representative from their district and find information about each board member.
In recent decades, the SBOE has been ground zero for a number of explosive political conflicts over education issues faced by localities and states across the country. Teacher and student testing, charter schools, the equitable distribution of funding and other resources, and the content of school curricula are but a few of the issues that have made the SBOE a political battleground in Texas. These battles were further fueled by the undeniable fact that the public education system in Texas is plagued with problems and consistently ranks behind most of the country in key measures, particularly in poorly funded rural and inner city districts. These conflicts have gained sustained public attention since the early 1990s, when activists and prominent political contributors launched a sustained effort to affect public education by electing religious conservatives to local school boards and the SBOE. In time, these efforts triggered organized responses by progressives, civil libertarians, and teachers' associations in the state. The result has been ongoing conflict over the composition of the SBOE and the policies it implements.
The current education commissioner, appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2004, is Shirley J. Neeley, the first woman in modern times to occupy the office. (The first woman elected to statewide office, Annie Webb Blanton, was elected in 1918 to what was then the office of state superintendent of public instruction.)
9.10 Appointed Agency Directors
Though the voters elect the most powerful executive officers, who are then beyond the direct control of the Governor, the Governor appoints the directors of a handful of state agencies. The most significant executive appointment the Governor makes is the Secretary of State, who is in charge of administering elections and maintaining some financial records.
The Governor makes several other appointments that are less prominent but nonetheless are of interest to those who fall within the jurisdiction or service areas of these bodies. These appointments are also useful channels of political patronage. Some examples are the Office of State-Federal Relations, the Office of Housing and Community Affairs, the Texas Film Commission, and the Texas Music Office. Unlike most other agencies in the executive branch, the Governor exercises direct authority over these offices.
9.11 Another Balancing Factor: Appointed and Ex-Officio Boards and Commissions
A mixture of more than 120 boards that act in particular policy areas are appointed by the Governor, with some boards and seats occupied by ex-officio members (those who automatically sit on a board or commission because they occupy another position). Board members generally serve staggered, six-year terms. Most of these boards select a chief administrator charged with overseeing daily operations.
These boards and commissions cover a broad range of matters, including agriculture, health, education, utilities, and a broad range of administrative and service functions commonly associated with the state bureaucracy. The agencies below are prominent examples.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) regulates all aspects of the production, distribution, and sale of alcoholic drinks in the state. With a budget of over $120 million dollars and over 500 employees, the TABC raises more than $170 million a year in permit and license fees, taxes on alcoholic beverages, and fines. One of TABC's most visible activities is their enforcement of the twenty-one-year drinking age. The TABC web site contains information about the three commissioners and a seven-minute streaming video describing the commission's activities.
The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has three members that the governor appoints to staggered six-year terms. The agency was created in 1975 amidst public outcry about rapidly increasing utility rates and has jurisdiction over telephone and electric power companies. (Though natural gas is a home and commercial utility for many Texans, this resource falls under the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission.) The PUC oversees rates and enforces rules and laws related to electricity and telecommunications. The expansion of telecommunications services and the experiment with electricity deregulation in Texas have been major areas of activity for the PUC in recent years. Telecommunications growth has meant a surge in the PUC's involvement in infrastructure development as companies move to install thousands of miles of new cable in the state. The PUC web site contains some information on the three commissioners and contains consumer protection information as well as information about PUC meetings and the ongoing deregulation pilot project.