The Most Important Race You Are Not Watching

In this rare midterm when Texas will not elect a U.S. Senator, the governor’s race gets the attention. With high-profile candidates like incumbent Greg Abbott and challenger Beto O’Rourke getting media attention, who could blame voters’ attention on those candidates and campaigns? The most important statewide race hardly anyone watches is the campaign for Lieutenant Governor.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick presiding over the Texas Senate (photo credit: KXAN)

Current Lt. Governor Dan Patrick seeks a third term against Democratic challenger Mike Collier in a rematch of the 2018 campaign. While recent polling suggests a higher number of undecideds in this race than the one for governor, this contest is incredibly important and deserves more media coverage and devotion than it currently has. The reasoning for the sentiment is how powerful the Lt. Governor position is.

Democratic Candidate for Lt. Governor Mike Collier (photo credit: Texas Monthly)

In several states, the Lt. Governor — outside of constitutional gubernatorial succession, serving on boards and commissions, and campaigning to be governor one day — is viewed as an unpowerful, backseat driver to the governor. Nearly three-quarters of Lt. Governors across the country have less than ten statutory duties. Due to lack of legislative and constitutional importance, this office is, by and large, overlooked. In Texas, however, this position wields awesome power and it comes in his role as Senate President.

Along with being a statewide elected official to a four-year term with no term limits, the Lt. Governor presides over the Texas Senate. In this capacity, he receives a tremendous amount of power from the Senators. Among those are committee creation; chair and vice-chair appointments; committee assignments; presiding over floor action on bills and resolutions; ex-officio — or automatic — membership to several key boards and commissions like the Legislative Budget Board, Legislative Redistricting Board, Sunset Advisory Commission, etc.; and setting the legislative agenda. These informal capabilities make the Lt. Gov. the most powerful statewide elected leader in Texas because it gives him a hands-on approach to the legislative process.

At the beginning of the 2021 legislative session, I wrote how Lt. Gov. Patrick forced a change to Senate rules in bringing bills to the floor. Such a forceful change highlights this position’s importance and power, especially when it comes to setting the Senate’s legislative agenda. Come 2023, the Lt. Governor may shape an agenda that has a rippling effect throughout the Lone Star State.

As current Lt. Governor Dan Patrick campaigns across the state — something he did not do in 2018 — discussing his conservative agenda that contains property taxes, school vouchers, and E.R.C.O.T. grid, the Democratic nominee Mike Collier does the same, discussing similar issues from his progressive agenda. Obviously, the candidates have different perspectives on them but it is refreshing these matters garner attention from candidates for the state’s most important statewide seat.

Texas Greeting Card with Levelland, Texas, on it (credit: Dan Patrick Campaign Page)

If readers could not tell, I pay attention to candidates’ stances on public education. In this race, it has taken a front row seat. Lt. Gov. Patrick is a strong advocate for voucher programs, currently campaigns on it, and it is a plank in the Republican Party of Texas’ platform.

Mike Collier, on the other hand, is against vouchers. Discussing an issue in rural Texas, which is where statewide elections are decided, is key for Democrats to crack the “red wall” and flip the state. With Collier receiving three important endorsements from elected Republicans in the past month including a former Republican Lt. Governor, maybe this will sew seeds of doubt in Texas Republicans’ “Old Faithful.” Conservatives, however, were quick to dismiss these endorsements as if they were swatting flies.

Text from Dan Patrick’s campaign after former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff endorsed Mike Collier (photo credit: Phil Jankowski)

And maybe they are. What cannot be forgotten is Lt. Gov. Patrick has the advantage. In almost all of the available polling data, Patrick leads Collier. A third term for Dan Patrick means he carries the Senate’s legislative agenda into 2023.

Recent Texas Tribune/UT Poll

Regardless of candidate or incumbent, this position is important. Carrying the Senate’s agenda in a hands-on manner makes the office — what is considered to be in many states an afterthought –not only a reckoning force of power and influence, but also a race that is worthy of attention.

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Drew Landry

Drew Landry

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Government Prof; Baseball fan; Political junkie; @drewllandry on Twitter