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What if Perry and Dewhurst Lose? Then What?

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst shakes hands with Gov. Rick Perry at the 2011 inauguration.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst shakes hands with Gov. Rick Perry at the 2011 inauguration.

What if everybody loses?

Gov. Rick Perry is running for president. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is running for U.S. Senate. And it seems like everyone else in Texas politics is making plans based on one or both of those offices opening in 2012. Then there’s the 2014 election, when most of the statewide spots in Texas government open, and the assumption that neither Perry nor Dewhurst will be on the ballot that year.

What if this has a different ending? What if Perry loses the Republican primary for president and comes home to finish his term? What if he wins the nomination and loses the general election? And what about Dewhurst? What if he loses and comes back to run the State Senate through the Legislature’s 2013 regular session?

They’d both be kind of cranky, don’t you think?

And what about all of those other state officials who’ve been thinking excitedly about what the near future might hold? If the governor and lieutenant governor lose their races, state senators wouldn’t be electing one of their own to handle the rest of Dewhurst’s term or, possibly, Perry’s. The statewide officeholders looking hard at campaigns for 2014 would have to tap the brakes, waiting to see what Dewhurst and Perry do.

The assumption is that Perry would not run for another term, but Texas pols have fallen for that one before. Kay Bailey Hutchison got talked out of a 2006 run for governor by supporters who told her they would back her in 2010 if she’d stay out of the incumbent’s way that year. She did, but Perry surprised her and a lot of other people when he decided to run again in 2010.

If he fails to win the presidency, he probably would not seek re-election as governor again in 2014, but you never know. And what about Dewhurst? The prevailing presumption is that Attorney General Greg Abbott will run for governor in 2014, but what about Dewhurst? If the lieutenant governor falls short in a U.S. Senate bid in 2012, he’ll still be in Texas. Would he run for re-election, or challenge Abbott and others for Perry’s seat?

It’s not just idle chatter. One reason Dewhurst is formidable in the race for Senate is that he will hold his current post until he wins, and he’ll still hold it if he loses. If you’re a potential political contributor with business before the state, that’s part of your calculation: Do you give money to a sitting lieutenant governor who’s running for U.S. Senate, or keep your checkbook closed and if he loses, be stuck doing business for the next two years with someone you didn’t support?

Lobbyists particularly hate this sort of thing. They’re salespeople, after a fashion, and they have to seek favor with the winners. That’s tough if you supported a winner’s opponent. It’s hard enough choosing a favorite candidate for U.S. Senate or, later, for governor or lieutenant governor. It’s that much more complicated if there’s a chance you’ll have to deal with losers who will remain in power.

Can’t work up any empathy for the lobbyists? How about the officeholders who are pining for new jobs they can’t seek unless the people in front of them  get out of the way? In addition to Dewhurst, another statewide officeholder, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, is running for U.S. Senate. Three more — Comptroller Susan Combs, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples — openly covet Dewhurst’s lieutenant governor post if it open. Abbott’s eye is on the governor’s job. Behind them is a gaggle of state and local officeholders who want their jobs: senators, state representatives, county commissioners, city council members and so on.

The entire political food chain is watching. Losses at the top could spoil their dreams.

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.