Senate Committee Shuffle Leaves Dems
with Lone Chair and Tea Party with None
January 15, 2021
Texas Senate Democrats and their most conservative Republican colleague emerged as the apparent losers on Friday when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick unveiled the committee assignments that he unveiled for the regular session this year.
Patrick revived a push to remake the east wing of the statehouse into a small-time version of Congress when he named 14 Republicans and only one Democrat to chair standing panels in a chamber where the minority party had two during his first three regular sessions at the Senate helm.
But Patrick also ran the risk of offending the GOP hard right when he consolidated two Senate committees back into one as the Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee in a move that left State Senator Bob Hall of Edgewood out in the cold as the only Republican who'd served as a chair in 2019 but came up empty in the new leadership lineup.
Hall - a former military officer who's been the upper chamber most conservative member in recent years - had been one in a small group of Republican leaders and lawmakers who sharply assailed Governor Greg Abbott for the emergency restrictions that he's put in place during the coronavirus crisis.
While Patrick shifted GOP State Senator Joan Huffman of Houston from the State Affairs Committee's top job to the lead role in the fight over new legislative and congressional maps as the chair of the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting.
After ending Democratic State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa's long run as the Senate Finance Committee vice-chairman last year, Patrick selected the veteran lawmaker from McAllen to serve as the second highest ranking senator on the Redistricting Committee.
Patrick already had tapped Republican State Senator Bryan Hughes to chair the powerful State Affairs Committee of Mineola as Huffman's replacement while choosing Democratic State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. of San Benito for the role that Hinojosa had on the budget-writing panel.
But Patrick passed on the chance to promote another senator to a leadership post when he eliminated the Intergovernmental Relations Committee that Lucio had been leading instead of choosing a replacement chair and keeping the panel in business.
Patrick turned again to a longtime ally in State Senator Paul Bettencourt - a Houston Republican who's been one of the chamber's most effective members since his election as the current lieutenant governor's successor six years ago.
Bettencourt appeared to make history as the first senator to be leading committees that were created for him to lead when Patrick picked him to be the chairman of new Local Government Committee. Bettencourt's new assignment appears to sign that Republicans are going to resurrect an attack on the powers of cities and counties during the biennial gathering that convened in Austin on Tuesday.
GOP State Senators Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Larry Taylor of Friendswood and Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hill will continue to lead the Finance Committee, the Education Committee and the Business & Commerce Committee respectively as high-level Patrick lieutenants.
Two more key Patrick allies - GOP State Senators Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Brandon Creighton of Conroe - stay in the influential posts they have as the chairs of the Health & Human Services Committee and the Higher Education Committee respectively.