Well, that wasn’t so hard.
The Texas Senate, roughly fifteen minutes after convening this morning, voted 27-0 to pass a set of Senate rules that preserves the all-important two-thirds tradition. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and newly elected President Pro Tem Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) both expressed relief at the lack of significant changes to Senate rules—especially the continuation of the two-thirds rule, which requires at least 21 votes before a bill can be debated on the Senate floor.
“It forces the senators to consult with each other and work together to try to come up with something that is in the best interest of all Texans,” Dewhurst said in an interview with the Texas Observer.
Some hardliners were pushing hard to overturn the tradition. Houston Republican Sen. Dan Patrick has adamantly lobbied his colleagues to abolish the rule. Doing so would hobble the 12 Democrats in the Senate and elevate the power of the most conservative members of the GOP.
Patrick believes that the Texas Senate guidelines should resemble the U.S. Senate’s 60 percent requirement. The current system “cuts off our ability to debate the important issues of our state,” Patrick said. He has promised to raise the issue every session.
However, Van de Putte believes it will remain a part of the Texas legislative system for some time. “In discussions with my colleagues during the interim, there was very little support for changing the two-thirds rule,” Van de Putte said in an interview with the Texas Observer. “I felt very confident that [it would pass] because it has worked well, and it makes us work together.”
Both Dewhurst and Van de Putte cited education and water infrastructure as important bipartisan issues this session that may benefit from the two-thirds rule. “Some would say the two-thirds rule protects the minority, which is Democrats,” said Van de Putte. But “for many of the things that are extremely contentious in this state, the minority is not just people who represent one political party.”
The minority, she explained, is “more often the divide between suburban and rural, especially when it comes to things like water and water infrastructure, rural schools, gambling, and expansion of gaming.” She continued, “in water politics, there is no Democrat versus Republican.”
Dewhurst agreed that these issues were worth the Senate’s focus this year. He insisted that this session will improve the lives of Texans “by coming up with funding for infrastructure development and new drinking water, more highway capacity, more power generation, and more classrooms and classroom teachers.”
While Dewhurst expressed support for the two-thirds tradition this morning, he hasn’t been hesitant to set it aside in the past to move controversial legislation, including voter ID and the failed legislative redistricting plan.
He said the two-thirds rule hasn’t necessarily been a hindrance to his agenda.
“So far, I’ve been able to get everything that we’ve wanted, which is good fiscal policy and good pro-growth policy passed,” Dewhurst said.