Tonight at 8, the four Republicans running for lieutenant governor will meet at KERA studios in a debate being televised statewide.
With primary competition in the governor’s race, and Gov. Rick Perry not running for reelection, the lieutenant governor’s contest is taking on added importance in the March 4 primary.
In some states, the lieutenant governor is mostly a second banana to the governor, with little influence in shaping laws. But in Texas, the lieutenant governor makes important committee and board appointments, leads the legislative budget board, which makes big money decisions, and is in charge of the Texas Senate.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, says an effective lieutenant governor can exercise a “stranglehold” over legislation, deciding which bills pass and which ones never reach the floor for a vote.
With Gov. Perry leaving the executive office after 14 years, Henson says the candidate elected lieutenant governor this year may end up being as powerful as Perry’s successor.
“The next governor will not have the seniority advantages if you will in the bureaucracy that Gov. Perry has accumulated," Henson said. "So there will be a chance for the lieutenant governor to assert what we think of as the more traditionally powerful role of lieutenant governor. It’s going to matter a lot."
Henson says what seems to matter right now to the Republican candidates is capturing the attention of the party’s most conservative voters.
In more than 20 community debates, the four candidates -- Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the incumbent; State Sen. Dan Patrick; Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson; and Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples -- have tried to out-conservative each other as they’ve tangled over pivotal party issues, including their pro-life agendas, illegal immigration, spending cuts and how to thwart the Democrats’ agenda.
With four competitive elected officials going head-to-head it’s unlikely any one of them will win the March 4 GOP nomination on the first round. That’s why Henson expects tonight’s KERA debate being broadcast in all of the state’s TV markets to include some sucker punches.
“I think what you have is the candidates looking at each other and trying to figure out who they need to attack to ensure they make the runoff,” he said.
What Henson hopes is that voters take a long look at the four contenders as they stand side-by-side, answering the same questions about policy and leadership.
Henson says he’ll be watching for who can project more than ambition and one-upsmanship. He expects voters to react favorably to the candidate who most persuasively explains why he can use the enormous powers available to the lieutenant governor to move Texas forward.
The Texas Debates: Race for Lieutenant Governor airs live tonight at 8 on KERA-13, KERA 90.1 FM and at keranews.org. KERA will be live-blogging. You can tweet your questions for the candidates to @keranews using the hashtag #texasdebates.
Study up on the candidates
Here's some brief biographical information on the candidates.
Here's a listing of some stories related to the four candidates -- stories mostly from KERA, NPR or KUT, Austin's public radio station:
- Todd Staples, A Lieutenant Governor Candidate, Says Politics Hasn't Changed Him
- Lieutenant Governor Candidates Compete For Title: Defender Of The Border
- Wendy Davis Filibuster Key Issue In Lieutenant Governor Debate
- Patterson Trails In Fundraising, Hopes Hispanic Voters Remember The Alamo
- In Grapevine, Dewhurst Calls For Long-Range Education Plan
- How To Master The Fine Art Of Political Symbolism
- G.P. Bush Prepares to Enter Office as Dewhurst Looks to Life After Politics
- GOP Candidate Accuses Houston Mayor Of Gay "Strategy" For Marrying Partner
- Dewhurst: 'Obama Ought To Be Impeached'
- Allen Police Say Dewhurst Call Was Handled By The Book
- Texas Primary Primer: For John Cornyn, A Stockman Surprise -- And How Other Races Are Shaping Up
- From 2012: Battle Brewing Over School Choice Option
Check out the candidates' websites: