A significant resource that governors may use to build support and accomplish political goals is the power of appointment. About 200 boards, commissions, and agencies oversee the daily operation of government, and the governor makes several hundred appointments to these various entities.
These appointments allow the Governor to place allies in strategic locations in state government - a critical asset in his or her efforts to establish and carry out policies. Governors can also use the appointment power to reward political supporters, a practice known as patronage. Supporters can be awarded government jobs, which can also be used to curry favor with rival political leaders and office holders. These uses of political appointments are mutually reinforcing: rewards for past support are likely to increase future support from appointed office holders.
Appointments can also be used to establish a political tone - to signal a governor's intention to pursue a particular political or policy strategy. Governor Ann Richards appointed unprecedented numbers of minorities and women, solidifying her liberal Democratic base of support and signaling her intention to follow through on her campaign theme of building a "New Texas." In 2001, Rick Perry attempted to follow through on his promise to encourage bipartisanship by appointing Democrat Henry Cuellar, a Mexican-American legislator from Laredo, to the office of Secretary of State. Governors find out early, though, that the interpretations of these messages can be difficult to control. Skeptics and political opponents saw Richards's appointments as patronage and too race-conscious. And there was widespread suspicion that Cuellar's appointment was also meant to foster divisions among Democrats.
The governor's appointment power is limited by the requirement that two-thirds of the Senate confirm appointments. The confirmation process is also shaped by the unwritten tradition of senatorial courtesy. This custom allows the senator of the district in which a nominee lives to effectively veto the appointment. If a senator objects to a nomination, his or her colleagues in the Senate respect the objection and will not vote to confirm. However, the Legislature must be in session to effectively exercise this veto. If a vacancy occurs while the Legislature is not in session (and it regularly meets for less than six months every two years), appointees can serve in the position until the Senate convenes and takes up confirmations. So a governor may make an interim appointment even knowing the nominee will later be rejected. The nominee gets to serve for a limited period of time and perhaps can even use the opportunity to convince enough senators that he or she should keep the post.
There is a further limitation on the governor's appointment power. Most appointees of the various boards and commissions serve staggered terms (six-year). Texas law does not grant governors the ability to fire their predecessors' appointees, so unless there is an unusual number of deaths or resignations, it will be several years into a governor's term before most boards and commissions are controlled by his or her appointees.
Though skillful governors can and have used their appointment powers to good effect, there are real limits to those powers created by Texas's plural executive system. Voters elect several key offices - the most important being the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, and the Comptroller of Public Accounts. Read more about powers and responsibilities of these officials in The Plural Executive.
These officials don't necessarily feel loyalty to the Governor, and may use their position to cause headaches for the state's chief executive. During his term as Attorney General, Mark White was frequently at odds with Republican Governor Bill Clements and used his position as a platform for challenging and defeating Clements in the 1982 election. White and Clements were in different parties, but the plural executive can also fuel conflicts within a party, as when Jim Mattox used his position as Attorney General to challenge Ann Richards, then the state Treasurer, for the Democratic nomination in the hard-fought 1990 gubernatorial primary.
These conflicts illustrate one of the purposes of the creation of the plural executive: to take some power out of the hands of the governor and spread it around to other positions in the executive branch. This characteristic of the Texas Constitution illustrates a variation of one of the characteristics of the U.S. Constitution: the avoidance of placing too much power in any one office or person. In the Texas Constitution, this characteristic is evident not only in the separation of powers among the different branches of government, but also within the executive branch itself.