The Plural Executive
The Plural Executive
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Explain Texas’ plural executive and discuss the various offices and powers
Texas fragmented the Governor's power at the end of Reconstruction and dispersed executive power by creating a plural executive. This section discusses Texas' plural executive.
Texas' Plural Executive
Article 4 of the Texas Constitution describes the executive department (branch) of Texas. Texas utilizes a plural executive which means the power of the Governor is limited and distributed amongst other government officials. In other words, there is not one government official in Texas that is solely responsible for the Texas Executive Branch.
The state bureaucracy in Texas has numerous state boards, commissions, councils, and committees. Additionally, several major agencies within the plural executive have administrative and advisory functions.
Below are some of the members of the Texas Plural Executive and their roles:
The lieutenant governor is technically a member of the executive branch, but with duties that are mostly legislative. While not a member of the Senate, he serves as the state senate's presiding officer - not in a ceremonial role such as that served by the United States Vice President over the U.S. Senate, but as the state senate's day-to-day leader. He is also first in line of succession for Governor, member of the Legislative Redistricting Board and Chair of the Legislative Budget Board. He is elected statewide and serves a four-year term. The current lieutenant governor is Dan Patrick, a former state senator, and former television sports anchor from Houston.
The Texas Attorney General serves at the official lawyer for the State of Texas representing the state on civil matters and is responsible for interpreting the application of statutory law in the absence of an applicable court ruling. His office has additional duties relating to child support enforcement and consumer protection. Elected to a four-year term statewide, the current attorney general is Ken Paxton, a former state senator from the Dallas area.
The Commissioner of the General Land Office is the state's real estate asset manager - an unusual position for voters to choose in a statewide election until you remember that Texas, as a condition of admission to the United States in 1845, maintained state ownership of vast amounts of public land that would have become federal in most other states. The leasing of public land for everything from oil exploration to grazing has been an important source of funding for state universities and public schools. The land commissioner is also responsible for Texas' 367 miles of Gulf Coast beach and has played an increasingly central role in managing disaster relief funds since Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Elected to a four-year term, the current commissioner is George P. Bush, nephew of former President George H. W. Bush.
The Comptroller of Public Accounts is the state's independently-elected chief financial officer. Even if passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, the state's biennial budget cannot take effect unless "certified" by the Comptroller - his official finding that the budgeted amount will not exceed the amount of revenue he believes the state will collect during the budget period. The Comptroller is also the state's tax collector and banker. Glenn Hegar, a former state representative and senator from Katy, is the current Comptroller.
The Texas Agriculture Commissioner is elected to both promote and regulate Texas agriculture, which some perceive as a potential conflict. He administers the Texas Agriculture Department, the duties of which include weights and measures - including gasoline. Inspectors check every gas pump in Texas periodically to make sure consumers are receiving the amount they purchase. The current Agriculture Commissioner is Sid Miller, a former state representative from Stephenville.
The Texas Railroad Commission consists of three commissioners, all elected statewide, who serve staggered six-year terms. Originally created to regulate intrastate rail commerce, that task was largely assumed by the federal government, leaving the Commission to take on other tasks. During the Great Depression, the Commission was given the responsibility of regulating the Texas oil industry, which was a substantial percentage of the world's oil industry in the early Twentieth Century. By setting an "allowable" for every oil well in Texas - the maximum amount that could be legally extracted - the Texas Railroad Commission basically set the global price of oil for many years. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) used the Texas Railroad Commission as their model for creating a worldwide oil cartel in 1960. The commission still has some authority over gas utilities, pipeline safety, liquified natural gas production, surface coal, and uranium mining.
The Texas State Board of Education is the largest elected body in the state's executive branch, with 15 members elected from single-member districts. Chaired by Donna Bahorich, of Houston, the Board is charged with setting curriculum standards, reviewing textbooks, establishing graduation requirements, overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund, and approving new charter schools. The Board works with the Texas Education Agency, which is administered by a Commissioner of Education appointed by the governor, not the Board. The current Commissioner of Education is Mike Morath, a software developer who served on the Dallas Independent School District Board before his appointment by Governor Greg Abbott in 2016.
The Texas Secretary of State is not elected, but is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. The Secretary of State has a variety of duties, including administration of elections within Texas, publishing the Texas Register (which notifies the public of proposed and final state agency rules), and advising the governor on border matters. The Secretary of State also presides over the Texas House of Representatives at the beginning of each legislative session, presiding over the election of his replacement to serve as Speaker of the House. Governor Abbott appointed Ruth R. Hughs as Texas Secretary of State on August 19, 2019.
Other executive branch officials include hundreds of appointees to state boards and commissions from the powerful to the obscure. The Texas Transportation Commission oversees billions in highway funding, while the Board of Criminal Justice oversees one of the nations’ largest prison systems. Texas also has a state poet laureate, a state musician and two-state artists – one for two-dimensional and one for three-dimensional media.