by MORGAN SMITH
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is making some big leadership changes ahead of the 2013 legislative session.
On Thursday morning, his office announced that he was shuffling committee chairs up for the remainder of the interim, appointing state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to chair the education committee, and replacing state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, with state Sen. Kel Seliger R-Amarillo, as chair of the higher education committee.
Both Seliger and Patrick have pushed to lead the education committee since it was vacated by retiring state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.
[If she wins re-election in November, as she is expected to do, Zaffirini will represent eastern Hays County and San Marcos in a new district that includes Texas State University. With State Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s loss in the Republican primary, Dewhurst’s announcement means Hays County won’t be represented by any legislators with major committee chairmanships].
Dewhurst’s pick indicates his support for school choice legislation, for which Patrick has become an increasingly vocal advocate. The Houston senator recently led an interim committee hearing that focused on the benefits of such reforms, including private school vouchers. In August, he told the Houston Chronicle that “this was the year” to pass laws enacting them, saying it would be “the photo ID bill of this session.” At the Republican National Convention, Dewhurst told delegates he looked forward to working with Patrick in passing school choice reform.
The Texas State Teachers’ Association has already come out swinging against his selection, urging the Senate majority to block Patrick’s appointment, which President Rita Haecker said in statement would “turn undue attention to a privatization sideshow that does not address the needs of the overwhelming majority of Texas students.”
As the leader of the committee, Patrick will have plenty of other prickly battles on his hands. Lawmakers will be under pressure from school districts reeling from the effects of the $5 billion-plus budget cuts enacted last time around and from parents who have watched their students struggle through the state’s shaky roll-out of its rigorous new assessment system. He will also be a key player in the anticipated reform of the school finance system after litigation winds its way through the courts.
Speculation has swirled around what approach Dewhurst would take toward Zaffirini, a prominent Democrat leading a powerful committee. While he removed her from her post, she did not go home empty-handed. Zaffirini will now chair the Senate Committee on Government Organization, where Sunset legislation will be considered.
Here is the complete list of appointments, in some cases coupled with Dewhurst’s rationale:
Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education to maximize the benefits of his interest in education and workforce development and his ability to work with all Members. He recently served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Redistricting.
Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation, succeeding Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) who was recently appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance. Senator Nichols has a distinguished background in Texas transportation, having served as a Commissioner of the Texas Department of Transportation.
Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), whose leadership of the Senate Committee on Higher Education has benefitted Texas students, is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Government Organization, where important Sunset legislation – including bills relating to the Higher Education Coordinating Board – will be considered this Session.
Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), who has ably served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Government Organization, is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Open Government to work on rewriting appropriate sections of the Open Government laws and increase transparency in state government operations in this age of modern communications.
Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security, with the important responsibility of Homeland Security transferred to his Committee. This new responsibility will compliment Senator Estes’ personal priorities and military presence in his District.
Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) has been appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, due to his strong interest in improving public education for children, instituting innovative change and providing for more school choice by parents. Senator Patrick succeeds Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) who announced her retirement from the Texas Senate in September 2011.
Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which deals with local government issues.
Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Nominations, which handles the important job of considering Gubernatorial appointments.
Senator Royce West (D-Dallas), who served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence where his strong legal background will benefit the Senate as well as the Judiciary.
Senator Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development to help grow the Texas economy and create new jobs. This position was formerly filled by Senator Mike Jackson (R-La Porte).
As previously announced, Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) will serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, succeeding Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) who announced his retirement following the 82nd Legislature.
With looming Medicaid costs and the implementation of Obamacare, Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has been reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services to help the Senate address federal healthcare and Obamacare challenges.
In light of complicated challenges facing Texas relating to tort reform, property rights and health insurance, Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) has been reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on State Affairs.
Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce after previously serving as Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.
Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources after previously serving as Chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce.
Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Administration.
Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.
Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations.
MORGAN SMITH reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.
PHOTO by BOB DAEMMRICH FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNE