AUSTIN Who do you think is the most powerful political figure in Texas?

If you guessed the governor, like most people do, you're probably wrong.

Although Gov. Rick Perry's title and presence in the media might suggest he's on top of the power heap, whoever is serving as governor might not even be the second most powerful figure in Texas politics, according to state officials and political observers.

Two positions speaker of the Texas House and the state's lieutenant governor are arguably more important and more sought after positions when it comes to Lone Star state politics.

"They have more actual power because they are on the legislative side and the governor is on the executive side," said El Paso state Rep. Joe Pickett. "The governor can really just appoint people to committees that are mostly bureaucratic in nature, but that's not an insult, because they are important, too."

Harvey Kronberg, who edits the popular political Web site, Quorum Report, is a little more direct: "Compared to other states, Texas has a fairly weak executive branch," he said.

Current Speaker of the House Joe Straus oversees the House of Representatives. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is in charge of the Senate.

Both control a number of important powers unavailable to the governor, like controlling the flow of legislation and the appointments of House and Senate members to legislative committees.

For this report, El Paso Inc. contacted the offices of the governor, the lieutenant governor and House speaker for comment. Nobody called back.


Kronberg said many Texans are surprised to find out how much control comes with the positions of speaker and lieutenant governor.

"The dynamic can change over the years, but it's generally the case that the speaker and lieutenant governor are more powerful than the governor," he said.

And as usual, there are some things that make Texas a whole nother country when it comes to wielding political power.

As in many states, Texas' lieutenant governor is part of both the executive and legislative branches. He or she assumes the powers and duties of the governor when the governor is unable to serve or is absent from the state.

But in Texas, the lieutenant governor and the governor are elected separately, and they can even come from different political parties.

Here's another key difference: The Texas Constitution also gives the Senate the authority to write its own rules and that's where the lieutenant governor derives most of his power.

Take last week's voter ID debate.

Before the controversial bill came up on the Senate floor, with Dewhurst's help, Senate Republicans were able to change the rules so that the bill could pass with a regular majority, rather than the usual two-thirds majority.

The rules essentially allow the lieutenant governor to decide all parliamentary questions and use his discretion in following Senate procedural rules. He can even set up standing and special committees and appoint committee chairpersons and individual members.

Then there's the calendar. Under Senate rules, the lieutenant governor sets the order in which bills are considered.

And there's still more. As written in the Constitution, the lieutenant governor is automatically a member of several key legislative boards and committees: the Legislative Budget Board, the Legislative Council, the Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislative Education Board.

He or she even chairs two of them the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Council that have considerable sway over state programs, the budget and policy.

It's a bit different over in the House, where the speaker is not elected by the general public, but is instead chosen at the beginning of the legislative session by House members.

The speaker still appoints members to committees and controls the flow of legislation. But when it comes to controlling the power of their respective leaders, House members have more ways to do so than their colleagues in the Senate.

For example, at the start of the current legislative session, House members passed a record-setting 200-page rulebook to try to curtail the speaker's power.

The rules permit a majority of the chamber's 150 members to dump a speaker in mid-session and let House members appeal if the speaker doesn't recognize someone wanting to remove the speaker.

Those rules came in response to the actions of previous House Speaker Tom Craddick from Midland, and what many said was his constant abuse of power.

State legislators also know that getting on the wrong side of either can spell political doom.

Just ask former El Paso state Rep. Pat Haggerty, a Republican. At one point during Craddick's reign, Haggerty gave a fiery speech against the speaker and led a walkout of House members.

Craddick claimed "absolute authority" over the House and nothing really changed until he was finally voted out at the opening of this session.

But Haggerty wasn't there to enjoy Craddick's dethroning. Whether it was connected to his rebellion or not, Haggerty didn't even get a chance to run for re-election. He lost his party primary last spring.

Now the senior member of El Paso's state delegation, House member Pickett says he likes the system as it is.

"We have our rules and our system and the Senate has theirs," he said. "It's the best structure because it makes it more difficult to get things through."


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