The office of the Governor, created as a plural executive by the 1876 Constitution, divided the office into six independently elected statewide offices. This is done in large part to ensure that the abuses of the former governor, E.J. Davis, would be less likely to occur in the future. Each officeholder has autonomy from the Governor, ensuring that while there is some expectation of cooperation among each, another check on the Governor’s office is created. Texans elect a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, and land commissioner. After the constitutional convention, the office of the agriculture commissioner, the three-member Railroad Commission, and the 15-member State Board of Education were added to the executive branch. The office of the state treasurer was eliminated by constitutional amendment in 1995 (see Table 20.1). Only the secretary of state is appointed by the governor
* There are more than 200 state agencies assigned responsibilities for the administration of public policy in these areas. The executive branch in Texas is a combination of elected and appointed officials who administer more than 200 state agencies. What are the benefits and drawbacks to dispersing power across many elected offices and state agencies?
The Constitution lists only a few requirements for eligibility for Governor. A candidate seeking this office must be at least 30 years old, a US citizen and a resident of Texas for at least 5 years. Informally, a candidate should be a white, middle-aged, Protestant male from an affluent background. The governor’s salary, set by the legislature, is currently $150,000 annually; but the state provides the governor with substantially more ‘in-kind’ perks including housing and staff to maintain it, a security detail, travel expenses and access to state-owned cars, airplanes and helicopters. Only through impeachment can a governor be removed from office. This has only happened once in Texas’ history when Governor James “Pa” Ferguson was removed in. If the governor dies or becomes otherwise unable to serve, the lieutenant governor will replace the governor until the next regular election and serves as acting governor if the governor leaves the state temporarily.
The governor’s staff varies in size, but are the full time employees that serve at the governor’s leisure to assist with political, administrative and policymaking decisions. These employees are hired for a variety of reasons, but should be loyal and ideologically similar to the governor. They are responsible for organizing the governor’s schedules and appointments, strategizing on the governor’s agenda and represent the governor in meetings with lawmakers.
The governor’s legislative powers allow him to apprise legislators and citizens of his agenda through the State of the State address; but the constitution provides the governor with two key legislative powers: the veto which is the governor’s power to say no to bills passed by the Texas Legislature and the ability to call special sessions, where he sets the agenda. The line-item veto allows the governor to strike appropriations from the state budget bill. Often, the mere threat of a veto will bring wayward legislators around to his way of thinking. The governor’s budgetary power is somewhat limited to his line-item veto; but his office does formulate and present a budget to the Legislature. In times of fiscal crises, the governor’s authority is somewhat more expansive in that he can require up top 4% reductions in agency spending; but cuts larger than that require Legislative Budget Board approval. The governor’s appointment power is quite expansive allowing him to make over 2000 appointments to over 200 boards and commissions across the state. Unfortunately, for any governor, these boards’ members serve staggered terms, which begin and end at various points in time across a sitting governor’s term. Governor’s cannot remove members appointed by a predecessor and can only remove their own appointee’s with the consent of 2/3rds of the Senate. While judges in Texas are elected, occasionally a vacancy occurs due to death or resignation. In those cases, the governor will nominate a replacement until the next general election, when that nominee can choose to run for office. The governor will also fill vacancies in other state-wide elected offices, including the US Senate. Texas governors have very limited judicial powers, but can grant a 30-day stay of execution for someone on death row. Ultimately, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole will determine matters of early release, or the recommendation for pardon or commutation of a death sentence. As part of our responsibility under the US Constitution’s Article IV, Texas is responsible for fulfilling extradition requests made by other states for criminals which have fled their jurisdictions. The governor is responsible for ensuring those requests demanding the return of criminals are met by law enforcement officers in the state. A governor’s military authority is outlined in the Texas Constitution which empowers the governor as the ‘commander-in-chief’ of both the Texas Air and State Guards as well as the Rangers.
The mass media help shape the political and policy options of the governor. Governors call press conferences to announce new policies or explain their positions on pending issues. The timely use of the media can contribute significantly to the power and influence of a governor Historically, most governors derived only limited power from their position as party leader; but under the two-party system, however, the political party is taking on more importance and may provide greater resources to the governor. Successful governors aggressively solicit the endorsements and contributions of various groups and in turn, these groups develop stakes in gubernatorial elections and usually assume that the candidates they support will be responsive to their interests.
Governors can compensate for the constitutional limitations on their office with their articulation of problems and issues, leadership capabilities, personalities, work habits, and administrative styles. As the most visible state official, the governor sometimes gets credit that belongs to others—and can just as readily be blamed for problems beyond his or her control.
The Attorney General is responsible for defending state laws and rules
The Land Commissioner is responsible for managing over 22 million acres of land owned by Texas. Revenue generated by this office’s oversight is earmarked for the Permanent School Fund which provides money for public education in the state The Veteran’s Land Program provides low-interest home, land and home-improvement loans to Texas veterans.
The Railroad Commission was originally created to regulate the state’s operation of railroads, but was expanded to include all intra-state trucking as well as the production of oil, gas and coal mining. The federal government is primarily responsible for railroads and trucking, leaving the Railroad Commission the responsibility of regulating oil and gas production as well as mining in Texas. The State Board of Education is one of the more controversial state agencies in Texas. It is responsible for overseeing public education, the Texas Education Agency as well as in the creation and implementation of curriculum and text-book selection for the state.
The Texas bureaucracy is a loosely connected, highly fragmented network of state agencies responsible for developing programs to implement laws written by the legislature. The bureaucracy represents the most often accessed arm of government for the public; whether that be through obtaining a license for driving or hunting or fishing, a police officer for speeding, or clerk for obtaining a birth certificate. The size of Texas’ bureaucracy has grown substantially, largely as a result of growth in the population and the increase in demands placed upon government by its population; but also because of the increasingly complicated nature of programs and services a state provides.
The legislature usually defines a program broadly and gives the affected agency the responsibility for filling in the details. Administrative agencies can sometimes interpret a vaguely worded law differently from its original legislative intent. Many appointed agency heads have political ties to interest groups affected by the work of their agencies, and these officials help develop policy alternatives and laws because legislators depend on their technical expertise.
Although one state agency may be primarily responsible for translating legislative intent into a specific program, other governmental bodies are also involved.
Bureaucrat bashing” plays well politically, and many candidates for public office run on such campaigns. Often, they are unfairly blaming government employees for complex problems that policymakers have been unable—or unwilling—to resolve. Some legislative policies may be misdirected, with little potential for producing the intended results. Or economic and social conditions may change, making programs inappropriate. The legislature frequently fails to fund programs adequately. In some cases, the agencies charged with carrying out a new policy may not have the know-how or the resources to make it work. And finally, programs often produce unanticipated results. Thanks to the clout of lobbyists, regulatory agencies are often headed by boards with a majority of members from the professions or industries they are supposed to regulate. This pattern of influence and control is often referred to as co-option, underscoring the possibility that agencies may be “captured” by the industries they are supposed to regulate. The revolving door, a practice that often raised ethical questions about possible insider advantages. Many regulatory agencies serve as training grounds for young professionals who would gain valuable experience and make influential contacts. They would then leave state employment for higher-paying jobs in the industries they used to regulate and would represent their new employers before the state boards and commissions for which they had once worked, or they would become consultants or join law firms representing regulatory clients
Strategies for controlling the bureaucracy are many, but few are as successful as the power the legislature has to control an agency’s budget. The ability an agency has to successfully meet its mission can be severely affected by the budget that the legislature approves for it. Even assuming that the legislature is generous, the governor can constrain an agency through a line-item veto. Sunset laws require state agencies to periodically face review and either be reaffirmed or abolished by the legislature. The review requires that the Sunset Advisory Commission review and report its findings and recommendations to the legislature on the future of an agency; this could include continuation or termination; but it may also recommend restructuring. The sunset process has slowed the growth of the bureaucracy. Performance reviews, which were initially conducted by the Comptroller’s Office, are now performed by the Legislative Budget Board. These reviews serve as both a financial audit and an investigation of the programs and services provided by agencies to the public. Merit systems, like those that exist in the federal Civil Service Commission are a means by which to ensure professional and well-qualified employees work within a bureaucratic agency. Texas does not have a ‘civil-service’ program and the personnel system is decentralized throughout all the agencies with little uniformity in terms of personnel qualifications, job descriptions or classification. All agencies must advertise through the Texas Workforce Commission, but merit is not always the prevailing factor in employment hiring practices.