Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick dished on his legislative priorities this session, the inter-chamber relationship, and future election dynamics in a one-on-one interview Tuesday with The Texan.
2024 and 2026
The biggest news Patrick made this week was that despite previous comments, he will seek re-election in 2026 for a fourth term in the state’s second-highest elected position. The other election-focused comment Patrick made concerned the vaunted matchup between former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
When asked about the upcoming GOP decision in 2024, Patrick made clear his thoughts about Donald Trump: “He’s the best president we’ve ever had … he’s had the most conservative policies ever passed.”
Patrick has received endorsements from Trump in the past and supported him in 2020.
In his discussion with The Texan, Patrick mentioned his public support for Trump, saying, “I tweeted out last week we are all in.”
Patrick, who previously was the chairman of Trump’s campaign in Texas, is hoping to work with the Trump team again. “I got a call today from the Trump team to talk about some policy issues,” he noted.
Asked about his thoughts on DeSantis and his potential for 2024, Patrick said, “I just don’t know Ron Desantis … I think he’s done a terrific job in Florida, but I am a Trump guy.”
When it came to making a prediction for the upcoming presidential general, Patrick said, “The most recent poll I saw today is that Trump is ahead of Biden in 2024.” Regarding the upcoming GOP primary, Patrick restated his support. “I think Trump wins the primary, as of today.”
Concerning this legislative session, Patrick pointed to reinforcing the state’s main power grid. “We do not have enough thermal power,” he said. “What’s happened is that … today, renewables are a large part of our grid and with the plans that were made years ago now coming online, we’ll see it [make up] more than 50 percent [of the grid’s generation].”
“Renewables are fine. They keep our prices low — I was just told at the Capitol today that we have the fourth-lowest electricity costs in the country. But if it doesn’t turn on, that doesn’t mean a lot. You have to be able to have dependable, dispatchable power.”
This matches what Patrick said in his November press conference, where he even suggested that subsidizing the development of natural gas plants might be necessary and will be considered.
Another top priority of Patrick’s is property tax relief, something for which his chamber’s draft budget has itemized $15 billion. Patrick confirmed in the interview that a Property Tax Relief Fund — a pot of dollars that exists outside of the General Revenue fund so as not to affect the spending cap limitation — is indeed a potential option.
On the topic of school choice, Patrick was direct, saying, “We have to have school choice … we just have to have it.” Patrick has mentioned in previous statements that he and Gov. Greg Abbott are “all in” on school choice.
School choice is the next big battleground for the Legislature, which has passed a variety of prominent laws relating to education in recent sessions.
In the 86th Legislative Session, lawmakers passed House Bill (HB) 3, which provided reforms to the public education finance system. The 87th session saw HB 1525, which corrected issues with the financing problems and added transparency to many public schools; Senate Bill (SB) 3, which banned the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 classrooms; and HB 25, which prevented biological males from competing in women’s sports.
Patrick gave insight into his thoughts on how rural districts would be handled this session. “I don’t know what the bill will look like … There’s been pushback from rural Republicans that this would take money from districts. But the economies of scale show.”
The lieutenant governor clarified his previous idea of “bracketing out” rural districts as an option that would be considered to address the money concerns voiced by other Republicans. Patrick mentioned how his previous statements were not as clear as he would have liked as “it was a 15 hour day and I wasn’t as clear before.” He asserted that “We do not want to bracket out the parents … we want all parents in rural Texas to have school choice available to them.”
Patrick was firm in his stance on school choice, reiterating, “If you don’t have a chance at a quality education, you don’t have a chance at the American dream.”
With the recent filing of SB 176 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston), which would create the Texas Parental Empowerment Program, these comments by the lieutenant governor give an idea to the direction of the Senate in regards to school choice for the 88th Legislative Session.
Patrick also addressed the issue of university tenure, making clear what success on that front would look like: “Getting all these professors who don’t like America, who don’t like Texas, who don’t like capitalism, who are trying to pollute the minds of young people going to college.
“I would like to see them go to another state; that would be a success.”
Patrick said he would continue to “counter-punch” the moves of the progressive movement in higher education. He mentioned his Twitter interaction with the University of Texas at Austin, and responded to the complaint that phasing out tenure could lead to fewer professors being interested in teaching in Texas, “[I]f they are the type of professors we are going to attract, I don’t want to attract them. There will be plenty of conservative professors who want to come here.”
The plan to remove or reform tenure will have to go through the Senate Committee on Education. Patrick recently made his chair appointments and stated his confidence in Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), who Patrick said “is going to do a great job as chair and subcommittee chair of Higher Education.” He also asserted that he intends “to get a bill out.”
The lieutenant governor gave interesting insight when he mentioned his talks with university presidents. “I’ll tell you a secret. Most of the presidents of the universities, they tell me, ‘Dan, you got to get rid of tenure but I can’t say anything about it’ because they would get criticized by their faculty.”
When asked to comment on Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan’s (R-Beaumont) recent comments about not being able to attract conservative professors if this measure was to pass, Patrick said, “No one has a guaranteed contract for life. I believe professors will come here knowing that their campuses aren’t controlled by the woke liberal left.”
He also made a point to mention that he had a conversation with a chairman of the board of regency of an unnamed university, who told him that when it comes to recruiting conservative professors, “We will pay them more, it’s simple. We can pay them more money.”
Patrick said that what he wants from university faculty is “a professor from the old days, who taught students to think, not what to think.”
Patrick was also asked about the dynamic between the House and Senate this session compared with previous sessions.
He said that he expects an easier time than usual to pass “conservative legislation” this session due to the influx of new GOP senators.
But with the other chamber, Patrick said, “I look forward to working with the speaker, but I make no apologies for passing a conservative agenda to the House. That’s my job.”
The House and Senate are not always in agreement and are often in conflict over big items passing through the Legislature.
“Being the speaker is a very difficult job,” Patrick said, “and I would never want to be [in a situation] where I have to depend on 150 members and try to keep everyone happy so they don’t try and throw me out of the chair.”
“It’s very difficult and I respect that, but it’s not an excuse.”
The biggest fight so far in the Texas House centered on the appointment of Democrats as committee chairs, a bargaining chip often used to shore up a speakership majority and prevent a small subset of Republicans from uniting with Democrats to name a speaker. When the body adopted rules this month, leadership killed two amendments that banned or restricted those appointments.
Patrick, who released his committee assignments this week, named only one Democratic committee chair: state Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston). Whitmire, who is running for Houston mayor this year, will chair the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, on which Republicans outnumber Democrats.
Asked if that would be the last Democratic chair appointment of his tenure or just the last this session, Patrick said, “When John leaves, as of now, there will be no Democratic chairs.”
Whitmire got the appointment, the lieutenant governor stated, in part because he is the “Dean of the Senate” and is the most knowledgeable on Texas’ prison system. “So when John leaves, as of now we’ll have no more Democrats [as chairs].”
“If a Democrat is controlling a major committee anywhere and we can’t get a bill out, that’s a problem,” Patrick said, without going into specifics on House committee appointments.
A potential point of contention between the House and Senate this session is a renewal of Chapter 313 property tax abatements, a tax break program that died in the upper chamber last session and expired at the end of 2022.
Patrick, who hadn’t thus far taken credit for killing Chapter 313 renewal in 2021, said, “One of the reasons that I got rid of 313s last session — by the way, I just killed the bill — is that it had been misused.”
“About 60 percent of all 313 projects were renewable windmills. Again, they’re fine to have, keep energy prices low and helps the environment, but you have to have enough dispatchable to meet the needs.”
House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) has made the revival of the program a top priority, but a blueprint has yet to be released; some representatives have made it clear that revival of the program without excluding renewables is a “non-starter.”
Despite killing Chapter 313 renewal last session, the Senate didn’t appear opposed to the idea of such a program, just how it had developed and been deployed.
“The most important thing that I’ve ever passed [as lieutenant governor] was changing the blocker bill,” Patrick added. The “blocker bill” is a mechanism by which the chamber may bring up any legislation on the calendar provided that a supermajority of the senators will permit suspending the rules. While Patrick was a senator, the supermajority sat at 21 votes, a level that Republicans did not have even with the majority.
But when he assumed the gavel, the supermajority was reduced to 19 and then again to 18 last session. Now, the GOP majority may bring up anything it chooses at any time.
“The reason we’ve been able to send conservative bill after conservative bill out is because the Democrats cannot stop us,” Patrick said. “The only people who can stop Republican, conservative legislation from passing are Republicans.”
Patrick used this to juxtapose his chamber with the House, within which “the other party can kind of control the flow of what comes to the floor.”
“I would like to see the House to be able to control that a little bit more, so that if there’s an important bill, that it at least comes to the floor,” he added. “I’m not being critical. I’m just saying that that’s the difference: Democrats can’t block us in the Senate but they can block in the House, and are very effective at doing that.”
With the committee assignments made, onlookers now wait for Patrick and the Senate to unveil its slate of 30 priority bills for this session.
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Cameron Abrams is a reporter for The Texan. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Tabor College and a Master’s Degree from University of the Pacific, Cameron is finishing his doctoral studies where his research focuses on the postmodern philosophical influences in education. In his free time, you will find him listening to a podcast while training for an endurance running event.