At the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Dscuss the background of Texas' executive branch and Governor
This section discusses the background of Texas' executive branch.
The executive branch consists of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller of Public Accounts, Land Commissioner, Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, the three-member Texas Railroad Commission, the State Board of Education, and the Secretary of State. Texas has a plural executive branch system which limits the power of the Governor. Except for the Secretary of State, all executive officers are elected independently making them directly answerable to the public, not the Governor.
Partly because of many elected officials, the governor’s powers are quite limited in comparison to other state governors or the U.S. President. In popular lore and belief the lieutenant governor, who heads the Senate and appoints its committees, has more power than the governor. The governor commands the state militia and can veto bills passed by the Legislature and call special sessions of the Legislature (this power is exclusive to the governor and can be exercised as often as desired). The governor also appoints members of various executive boards and fills judicial vacancies between elections. All members of the executive branch are elected statewide except for the Secretary of State (appointed) and the State Board of Education (each of its 15 members are elected from single-member districts).
History and Background
The state’s first constitution in 1845 established the office of governor, to serve for two years, but no more than four years out of every six (essentially a limit of no more than two consecutive terms). The 1861 secessionist constitution set the term start date at the first Monday in the November following the election. The 1866 constitution, adopted just after the American Civil War, increased terms to 4 years, but no more than 8 years out of every 12, and moved the start date to the first Thursday after the organization of the legislature, or “as soon thereafter as practicable.” The Reconstruction constitution of 1869 removed the limit on terms, Texas remains one of 14 states with no gubernatorial term limit. The present constitution of 1876 shortened terms back to two years, but a 1972 amendment increased it again to four years.
The Texas Constitution specifies that the governor must be at least 30 years old, an American citizen and a resident of Texas for at least five years. Texas governors served two-year terms until voters changed the Constitution to provide for four-year terms in 1972.
The first governor of Texas was J. Pinkney Henderson, who took over executive leadership from the final president of the Republic of Texas, Anson Jones, in 1846. Every governor from Richard Coke (1874–1876) to Dolph Briscoe (1973-1979) was a Democrat. Since George W. Bush’s election to the governor’s office in 1994, all four Texas governors have been Republicans.
Texas was the first southern state to elect a female governor. Miriam Ferguson served two terms following the impeachment of her husband, James Ferguson, in 1917 – the only Texas governor ever impeached. The second female governor, Ann Richards, served in the 1990s.
The Texas governor currently receives a $150,000 annual salary, as well as living accommodations. The Texas Governor’s Mansion, immediately southwest of the Texas Capitol building, has been home to Texas governors and their families since 1856.
Texas elects governors in the midterm elections, that is, even years that are not presidential election years. For Texas, 2022, 2026, 2030 and 2034 are all gubernatorial election years. Legally, the gubernatorial inauguration is always set for the “on the first Tuesday after the organization of the Legislature, or as soon thereafter as practicable.”If two candidates tie for the most votes or if an election is contested, a joint session of the legislature shall cast ballots to resolve the issue.
The incumbent, Greg Abbott, is the forty-eighth governor to serve in the office since Texas' statehood in 1845. He assumed office on January 20, 2015, succeeding Rick Perry (R). Perry was the longest-serving governor in state history with a tenure lasting from 2000 to 2015. Abbott previously served as the Attorney General of Texas from 2002 to 2015.