Monday, January 07, 2013

The tribulations of David Dewhurst

He's as wounded as a wildebeest with a crocodile on his back.

For Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a criminal investigation into how $1.3 million went missing from his campaign accounts, undetected over five years, perhaps couldn’t have come at a worse time.

As the presiding officer of the Texas Senate, which convenes Tuesday, Dewhurst faces a challenge to his decade-long leadership from ultraconservative Republicans, a split that also figured in his surprise defeat last summer in an expensive U.S. Senate primary race.

And thanks to the missing funds, the Houston multimillionaire has just over $7,200 left in his campaign account, which officeholders use during legislative sessions to supplement staff salaries and pay other bills. By law, he cannot raise any additional money until the session is over.

Fresh off his thrashing at the hands of Tea Party extremist Ted Cruz, and recently pushing all in on a 2014 re-election bid in which he essentially declared that nobody was going to get to his right, The Dew is as mad as he is capable of getting. But getting re-elected is probably the least of his short-term worries.

In the clubby 31-member Senate, how more than $1.3 million went missing from the campaign fund of an astute businessman known for his meticulous attention to detail, without anyone knowing, is the subject of an ongoing, quiet debate.

“This should be embarrassing for him,” said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, an ethics watchdog group. “He is responsible for overseeing how public money is spent, yet he can’t even keep track of campaign money.”

The power play is set to open the 83rd session Tuesday (or shortly thereafter).

In the Senate, the session’s opening days will carry special intrigue: whether conservative Republicans will carry out a quietly talked-about bid to overhaul rules to give themselves more power. Many longtime senators are betting not.

At issue is whether there are enough votes to restrict the power of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate but is not considered to be conservative enough by some on the right, or to change a controversial rule that requires the consent of two-thirds of the members before a bill can be considered by the full Senate. Amending or dropping the two-thirds rule would give Republicans more power over legislation by limiting Democrats’ ability to block bills.

Recall that Democrats are one seat shy of the one-third minority to block, due to the passing of Mario Gallegos. No, they are not. As Charles points out in the comments, eleven is enough to block a 2/3rds majority. Now if you will excuse me, I'll wipe the egg off my face.

The reinforcement won't arrive for perhaps two more months (depending on when the governor schedules the run-off election for SD-6). So this early test of Dewhurst's power will simply reflect whether he can hold his caucus together or not. If a Republican or two defects to join the Dems in hewing to tradition, then Dewhurst's credibility is badly damaged. Not applicable, in light of above.

To me this makes for the most interesting development to open the session, since the Speaker tussle is without much drama. Dewhurst losing on the blocker bill* has a higher degree of probability then David Simpson getting elected Speaker of the House. *But not nearly as high as I thought.

Keep in mind that much of the time, the wildebeest gets away. But that's usually only because some smaller, weaker one becomes lunch.


Charles Kuffner said...

"Recall that Democrats are one seat shy of the one-third minority to block, due to the passing of Mario Gallegos."

This is not correct. Dems have 11 members now. When a successor to Gallegos is elected, they will have 12.

Wendy Davis
Rodney Ellis
Kirk Watson
John Whitmire
Carlos Uresti
Leticia Van De Putte
Chuy Hinojosa
Royce West
Eddie Lucio
Judith Zaffarini
Jose Rodriguez

All of the disaster scenarios involved Wendy Davis losing, because then Dems would be a vote short. Once she was re-elected, we started with 11 and will have 12 as soon as SD06 is settled.

PDiddie said...

Charles: my point was that the 12th Democrat is missing because the seat is empty now. As you have pointed out, it will be filled with a Democrat (almost certainly) but in a month... more likely two.

So, as the session opens and proceeds for a considerable time, they are one vote shy of the number they need to hold fast against the majority (as they would have, had Sen. Davis not prevailed).

Am I miscounting elsewhere?

Charles Kuffner said...

Well, 11 votes are all that's needed to invoke the two-thirds rule, since 20 is less than 2/3 of 31. Any issue on which they hang together - and admittedly there are some issues, such as abortion, on which they don't - they can block a bill, assuming the 2/3 rule is not gutted.

Basically, with 11 votes you can block anything for which the 2/3 rule is in effect. The concern before the November election was that if Wendy Davis lost, the Dems would have only 10 votes until a successor to Sen. Gallegos was elected. With Davis winning, the Dems are in the same position now that they were in 2007, prior to her election, when voter ID was the bill they most wanted to block. When SD06 is settled, they will have one extra vote, just in case.

PDiddie said...

I sit corrected. I'm going to revise the original.