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Texas Politics - The Executive Branch
Barry McBee on policy and politics in the governor's office Barry McBee on policy and politics in the governor's office
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Evan Smith on George W. Bush's political style Evan Smith on George W. Bush's political style
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Ann Richards on letdowns as governor Ann Richards on letdowns as governor
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Characteristics: Texas Governors Since 1874 Characteristics: Texas Governors Since 1874
8.    Governors of Texas

As the discussion of the powers of the office suggests, the public views the Texas governor with high expectations that any governor has limited power to meet. With little ability to lead the legislature, few constitutional means of control over the bureaucracy, and surrounded by executives that may be political rivals or even enemies, the governor is still looked upon as the political leader of the state. These expectations are the double-edged sword that defines the political position of the Texas Governor. Governors must be able to meet expectations in order to win reelection and stay in office, even though these expectations often overestimate the governor's capabilities.

Using the visibility of the office without being hamstrung by its limitations requires a mixture of political skill, personality, and lucky timing. A knack for negotiation and powers of persuasion are necessary to attempt to induce cooperation and compromise from legislators and elected officials who won't simply do as they're told. Conditions beyond a governor's control will also test each one's talent, political skill, and even his or her personality as each chief executive is forced to deal with economic cycles and unforeseen crises. For some, difficulties become opportunities to demonstrate leadership; for others, an economic downturn or a natural disaster force their administration off the rails. And sometimes, there may be no single event - the timing is just bad for a particular governor.

A look back on the terms of recent governors shows just how tricky it can be to get this mixture of political support, skill, personality, and luck right. Bill Clements (1979-1983, 1987-1991) played an historic role as the first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction, but being out front in the shift in Republican fortunes made for a tough time getting along with Democrats in the legislature. This situation was not helped by his lack of political experience and his aloofness from legislators. Both Clements and Mark White (1983-1987) were swamped by the major economic downturn that lasted from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.

Ann Richards came in on the tail end of the economic crash but benefited from her engaging, often aggressive personal style, and from a political approach that energized core Democratic constituencies such as ethnic and racial minorities and women. She established a solid if unremarkable legislative record, but despite what seemed like ample personal popularity, she was defeated for reelection by George W. Bush. Bush benefited from his compromising approach with key Democrats, a carefully calibrated set of political objectives, and, uniquely, anticipation of his impending run for the presidency during his final legislative session as Governor.

Yet despite Bush's popularity, successor Rick Perry faced his first legislative session amidst a sense that Bush's successes had been overrated. Cleaning up after Bush's attention-grabbing tax reduction measures was necessary - and it was Perry's responsibility to boot. In a number of ways, the early part of Perry's term was shaped by his need to come out from Bush's shadow without directly criticizing the popular Texan who now occupied the White House.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 116
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