As discussions in the 2000 national election revealed, the design of the Texas Constitution denies the governor the opportunity to exercise powers held by governors in many other states. Unlike the U.S. President, who with Senate approval appoints his cabinet, the Texas Governor must share executive power with other executive officers. But despite having fewer resources and more limitations, modern governors can be successful in implementing their priorities and policies.
The constitutional and historical contexts that have shaped their office require governors to reconcile the public expectation of leadership with limited institutional powers. Scholars of the U.S. presidency often make the argument that the president's chief power is the power to persuade - to use the attention automatically paid the president to create what Teddy Roosevelt called a bully pulpit to build support for their priorities. It is even more crucial for the Texas Governor to exercise this kind of power. With limited real executive power placed directly in the governor's hands, those who occupy the governor's mansion in Austin must find indirect and informal ways to build on their limited formal powers. Governors must be able to utilize their public position as a figurehead - as the symbolic leader the public most readily identifies with state government - to influence politics and policy. Using personality and image in public media to build and maintain the loyalty of both voters and powerful political elites is the key to exercising this influence.
There are different ways of sorting out just what powers the governor possesses and how to think about them. Though the Governor exercises executive powers, some observers note that governors also influence (or attempt to influence) legislative and judicial power. We can also think about the Governor in terms of roles he or she plays - chief executive, chief legislator, commander-in-chief, head of state, party leader, and popular figurehead. This enables one to think about the different hats that governors must wear in performing a multidimensional job. One can also think of the Governor in terms of the formal and informal powers that governors can exercise. Formal powers are those that are clearly defined in the state constitution and in state laws. Informal powers develop from a mixture of interpretation, tradition, and the more or less implicit capabilities that come with being the Governor.
However one chooses to sort through the job of being Governor, the key objectives should be to understand these limits, to understand how effective governors effectively govern through and around those limits, and to use this understanding to make thoughtful judgments about how governors perform their duties. To accomplish this, we start by looking at the formal institutional rules that structure the governor's job.