Senate bipartisanship may be on the ropes

Ross Ramsey has written an excellent analysis of what might lie in store for the Texas Senate if Dan Patrick is elected lieutenant governor.

It’s not pretty.

Patrick is locked in a tense Republican Party runoff with the current lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst. If Patrick is nominated in May and then defeats Democrat Leticia Van de Putte this fall, he might abandon the practice of putting minority party senators in charge of key committees.

According to Ramsey, Patrick should perhaps think long and hard before going through with that possibility. The last Democratic lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, tried it and it didn’t work out too well for him with the 1991 Legislature, Ramsey writes.

Bullock failed to place any of the nine GOP senators in committee chairmanships. Republicans responded by gumming up the legislative works in the Senate. They knew how to tie the process in knots. They did exactly that, Ramsey writes.

Dewhurst has talked about possibility scrapping the Senate’s two-thirds rule if he’s returned to office; the rule requires at least 21 votes out of 31 to bring any measure to a vote on the Senate floor. With just nine Democrats serving in the Senate, the two-thirds rule builds in bipartisan support for any bill to be considered by the full Senate.

That’s as far as Dewhurst has been willing to go. Patrick might take the fight even farther if he declines to put any Democrats in charge of Senate committees. Senate Democrats aren’t without their own legislative experience, much as Senate Republicans weren’t lacking it in 1991 when they hamstrung Lt. Gov. Bullock.

As Ramsey writes: “The Democrats can be a pain in the neck, and like the Republicans of 1991, they are not helpless. Look at what idle hands can do. (Ike) Harris had been in the Senate since 1967 when Bullock handcuffed him. Experience won the day. The dean of the Senate, John Whitmire, D-Houston, has held his seat since 1983 and served for a decade in the House before that; he witnessed Harris’s rebellion and could find himself in the situation that led to it. Other Democrats in the Senate have the chops to cause problems if they have nothing else to do. Patrick has children; he ought to know that people get antsy when they don’t have anything to do.”

Ramsey also notes that Van de Putte won’t be a pushover in the fall election. She’s a savvy legislator herself and she’ll give whoever wins the GOP nomination all he can handle in the fall campaign. If Patrick is the nominee and he wins the election this fall, Van de Putte will return to the Senate ready to give the new lieutenant governor fits.

This will be fun to watch play out … don’t you think?