Tag Archives: two-thirds rule

So long, Texas Senate civility

It took Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick no time at all to get his wish as the man who runs the Texas Senate.

The Republican super-majority that now comprises the 31-member legislative body has done away with the two-thirds rule.

As Texas Monthly blogger/editor Paul Burka notes, it signals the end of “adult behavior” in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Here’s what Burka wrote: “The death of the two-thirds rule was inevitable from the moment that Dan Patrick defeated David Dewhurst in the primary. Patrick has always opposed the rule, even before he became a senator. The Democrats’ reduced strength in the Senate made it all but impossible for the remaining members of their party to muster the ability to fend off the majority (one Democrat, Eddie Lucio Jr., joined the Republicans in the vote).

“I have always been a fan of the two-thirds rule because it gave the minority a fighting chance to take on the majority and it required a level of bridge-building and consensus to pass legislation. On a more basic level, it imposed ‘adult behavior on people who might be otherwise inclined.’ Unfortunately for the Democrats, their party just doesn’t have the numbers to fend off the majority, so Patrick doesn’t have to worry about bridge-building, consensus, or adult behavior as the presiding officer.”


The only party crossover vote was Lucio, according to Burka, who made no mention of whether Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, crossed over to the other side to preserve the two-thirds rule — which Seliger has said repeatedly that he favors.

I’m guessing Seliger sided with his GOP brethren to show unity among the ranks.

This tradition has lasted through the decades as lieutenant governors of both parties have honored the rule of requiring two-thirds of senators to approve of a bill before sending it to the floor for a vote.

Patrick laid down his marker early in his 2014 campaign by declaring that a simple majority of Republicans ought to be enough to decide the fate of any Senate bill.

Bridge-building between the parties? Who needs it? Lt. Gov. Patrick got his way.

Now the fun can really begin.


Patrick set to dispense with Senate 'tradition'

The next Texas lieutenant governor said he likely would do away with a rule that’s governed the flow of legislation.

Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick appears set to make good on it.

Let’s all say “so long” to the two-thirds rule of the Texas Senate.


The two-thirds rule had been favored by lieutenant governors of both parties as a way to build a semblance of bipartisan support for legislation. It requires that at least 21 senators out of 31 total support a bill before it goes to a vote.

Many Republican senators have supported the rule. One of them is Kel Seliger of Amarillo. But then again, Seliger is no fan of Patrick.

As the Texas Tribune notes in the essay attached to this blog post, Patrick — who tried as a freshman in 2007 to get rid of the rule — now appears to have the votes to scrap it.

As the Tribune reports: “The rule has the practical effect of forcing Republicans to earn the support of one or two Democrats to get a bill through the chamber — and of shielding moderates in both parties from difficult votes. It also can protect minority interests in situations where the divide is not partisan, such as on issues where regional rather than political allegiances come into play.”

The Tribune notes that the Senate retains the power to vote on changing the rule. The lieutenant governor, though, as the presiding officer of the body has the power to make committee assignments. He can pay back those who cross him with those appointments, as the Tribune reported.

This is the influence of the Texas TEA party wing of the GOP. It’s less bound by tradition than other Republicans. What’s more, the TEA party crowd now has one of their own sitting at the front of the Senate chamber.

It’s going to be a new day in Austin when the next Legislature convenes.

Some of the new folks will enjoy it. A number of the seasoned hands, who’ve enjoyed working in a legislative body that sought bipartisan collegiality, will not.


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?