Jane Nelson Joan Huffman Kel Seliger Brandon Creighton

April 23, 2019

Patrick Clout Clipping Puts Renegade Republican
in Position to Call the Shots on Number One Issue

Texas House Power Rankings

By Mike Hailey

You could make the case that State Senator Kel Seliger has been the most powerful lawmaker in 2019 in the Texas Capitol's east wing where Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick sought to strip his clout away in the early stages of the regular session in the midst of a feud that turned personal.

Patrick appeared at one point to think that Seliger's ouster from two separate committee chairs in less than a week had sent the Amarillo Republican into the kind of tailspin that prompted the lieutenant governor to lead a prayer session for the West Texan with several colleagues standing in a circle holding hands.

But Patrick forgot to do the math before he gave Seliger the boot from a coveted post as the Higher Education Committee leader with a demotion to a less influential chairmanship that the veteran legislator from the Panhandle didn't want and lost as a result after several days on the job.

With one more Democrat in an upper chamber where legislation needs 19 votes to advance, the punishment that Patrick meted out put Seliger in position to play God for a couple of months on the lieutenant governor's paramount priority of property tax relief. The Senate's other 18 Republicans weren't able to pass Patrick's prized tax reform plan until Seliger allowed them to do so after teaming with a dozen Democratic colleagues to block a vote until now.

  Freshmen
1 Angela Paxton
R-McKinney
2 Pat Fallon
R-Frisco
3 Pete Flores
R-Pleasanton
4 Beverly Powell
D-Burleson
5 Carol Alvarado
D-Houston
6 Nathan Johnson
D-Dallas
   
   
   
   

All of the other senators on the Capitol Inside Texas Legislature Power Rankings for 2019 are rated on the cumulative amount of sway they wield based on the committee assignments that the lieutenant goverrnor doles out. GOP State Senators Jane Nelson of Flower Mound and Joan Huffman of Houston - as the ultimate prime examples - are ranked first and second on the power chart on the east side of the rotunda as the chairs of the Finance Committee and the State Affairs Committee respectively. Nelson, the longest serving Senate Republican, is crowning the power list for the third consecutive regular session as the chamber's chief budget writer.

But Seliger is third on the Senate power list despite a sharp reduction in sway on paper as a consequence of the massive impact that he's had on the upper chamber up to now this year.

Patrick has done almost everything in his power to make the Senate Democrats as weak and irrelevant as possible since taking over as the presiding officer in 2015. The rankings reflect the Senate president's penchant for partisanship with Republicans occupying the 12 top spots on the list.

After picking up two Senate seats and losing one last year, the Democrats have been empowered as a group by Seliger's defiance even though their individual rankings are lower from a collective perspective than they've been at any point since the GOP seized the majority in 1997.

GOP State Senator Paul Bettencourt of Houston has vaulted from outside the top 10 into the fourth spot on the 2019 Senate power hierarchy as a lawmaker who's appeared to be closer to Patrick than any of his colleagues east of the rotunda. Bettencourt, who doubles as the Senate Republican Caucus chairman, is leading the Property Tax Committee that Patrick created early this year in the wake of an interim study that he had the Harris County solon spearhead.

Bettencourt is the lead author on the property tax rollback election measure that Seliger and the Democrats held at bay for more than two months until Patrick threatened to bypass the three-fifths threshold with a power play that he referred to as the nuclear option. Bettencourt, whose plum assignments include seats on the standing panels that oversee state spending and public school finance, has been building his name identification as the sponsor of a special resolution that declared illegal immigration at the border to an emergency crisis in a move that helped Patrick fill a request from President Donald Trump.

Five of the eight Republicans who are ranked among the eight senators with the most clout in 2019 were selected by Patrick this week for the conference committee that will negotiate a new state budget for the next biennium with a group of counterparts from the House. Nelson is the lead conferee on the appropriations bill with State Reps. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville and Huffman as fellow negotiators.

Patrick underscored his disdain for the bipartisan approach that House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has promoted when he appointed a conference committee on the most expensive budget in Texas history without a single Democrat.

State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa - a McAllen Democrat who's been the Finance Committee vice-chairman for the past 10 years - had been a member of the last five budget negotiating teams that the Senate had fielded before his exclusion this time around.

Hinojosa is the second highest-ranking Democrat in the 15th spot on the power chart that has Democratic State Senator John Whitmire of Houston two slots higher as one of Patrick's two Democratic committee chairs. Whitmire, who leads the Criminal Justice Committee, had never been ranked outside the top 10 in the power rankings since their inception in 2005 until now.

Taylor - the Senate Education Committee chairman - is fifth this year as the point person in the upper chamber on school finance and a major tax swap package that Governor Greg Abbott and the Legislature's top two leaders endorsed last week. Kolkhorst is close behind in her debut as the Health & Human Services Committee chair while Republican State Senator Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills is next on the list as the Business & Commerce Committee chief. The Transportation Committee leader, Nichols is ranked eighth while GOP State Senators Brandon Creighton of Conroe and Bryan Hughes of Mineola round out the top 10.

Creighton and Hughes are chairing standing Senate panels for the first time this year as the Higher Education Committee and Administration Committee leaders respectively.

 

19 Jose Rodriguez
D-El Paso
Agriculture Vice Chair, Transportation, Natural Resources & Economic Development, Water & Rural Affairs, Democratic Caucus Chair
20 Kirk Watson
D-Austin
Nominations Vice Chair, Finance, Education, Higher Education
20 Royce West
D-Dallas
Higher Education Vice Chair, Finance, Education, Transportation
20 Judith Zaffirini
D-Laredo
Natural Resources & Economic Development Vice Chair, State Affairs, Business & Commerce, Administration

 

 
  2019 TEXAS SENATE
POWER RANKINGS

Committee Assignments
and Special Positions
1 Jane Nelson
R-Flower Mound
Appropriations Chair, State Affairs, Legislative Budget Board, Legislative Audit Committee, Budget Conference Chair
2 Joan Huffman
R-Houston
State Affairs Chair, Criminal Justice Vice Chair, Administration, Legislative Budget Board, Budget Conference Committee
3 Kel Seliger
R-Amarillo
Health & Human Services, Nominations, Veteran Affairs & Border Security
4 Paul Bettencourt
R-Houston
Property Tax Chair, Finance, Education, Higher Education, Republican Caucus Chair
5 Larry Taylor
R-Friendswood
Education Chair, Finance, Higher Education, Water & Rural Affairs, Budget Conference Committee
6 Lois Kolkhorst
R-Brenham
Health & Human Services Chair, Finance, Transportation, Nominations, Water & Rural Affairs, Budget
Conference Committee
7 Kelly Hancock
R-North Richland Hills
Business & Commerce Chair, Transportation Vice Chair, Finance, Property Tax, Natural Resources & Economic Development, Legislative Budget Board
8 Robert Nichols
R-Jacksonville
Transportation Chair, Business & Commerce Vice Chair, Finance, Administration, Intergovernmental Relations, Legislative Audit Committee, Budget Conference Committee
9 Brandon Creighton
R-Conroe
Higher Education Chair, Water & Rural Affairs Vice Chair, State Affairs, Property Tax, Business & Commerce, Republican Caucus Vice Chair
10 Bryan Hughes
R-Mineola
Administration Chair, State Affairs Vice Chair, Education, Criminal Justice, Natural Resources & Economic Development, Legislative Budget Board, State Preservation Board
11 Charles Perry
R-Lubbock
Water & Rural Affairs Chair, Health & Human Services Vice Chair, Finance, Transportation, Criminal Justice, Agriculture
12 Donna Campbell
R-New Braunfels
Veteran Affairs & Border Security Chair, Finance, Education, Health & Human Services,
Business & Commerce, Intergovernmental Relations
13 John Whitmire
D-Houston
Criminal Justice Chair, Finance, Business & Commerce Chair, Dean of the Senate
14 Brian Birdwell
R-Granbury
Natural Resources & Economic Development Chair, Finance, State Affairs
15 Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa
D-McAllen
Finance Vice Chair, Property Tax, Transportation, Natural Resources & Economic Development, Agriculture
16 Dawn Buckingham
R-Lakeway
Nominations Chair, Health & Human Services, Criminal Justice, Higher Education, Texas GOP Victory Chair 2018
17 Eddie Lucio Jr.
D-San Benito
Intergovernmental Relations Chair, Education Vice Chair, State Affairs, Veteran Affairs & Border Security
18 Bob Hall
R-Edgewood
Agriculture Chair, Veteran Affairs & Border Security Vice Chair, State Affairs, Education, Nominations

 

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