Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, protector of the Texas Senate, is prepared to rewrite one of the chamber's oldest rules for the second time in less than a decade.
Speaking Thursday on a panel presented by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, Patrick said he will have the votes necessary to control the Senate's agenda, even if Democrats break Republicans' longstanding super-majority in 2020.
"We are at a crucial part of our history, where if we lose the election in November to the left, there are going to be a lot of people in Texas starting to think (about whether) we want to be a country again," said Patrick, a die-hard supporter of President Donald Trump. "It takes 19 votes to bring a bill to the floor — 16 to pass — I'm right there at that number. If we lose one or two seats we might have to go to 16 (to bring a bill to a Senate vote) next session."
There were a few laughs in the audience, but Patrick wasn't joking.
"I'm saying that because I know the media is listening. We would have to go to a simple majority because we will not be stopped in leading on federalism for the United States of America," he said.
Texas voters elected Patrick in 2014. One of his first priorities as the leader of the Senate was to dump the chamber's longstanding two-thirds rule, which required two-thirds of the state's senators — 21 out of 31 — to sign off on a bill before it moved to the Senate floor.
Patrick and his allies changed the rule to the three-fifths rule, meaning that Patrick needed only 19 votes to move a bill forward. When Patrick made the change, it seemed unlikely that Democrats would regain the ability to stop the lieutenant governor's steamroller anytime soon.
That changed after the 2018 election, when voters in Dallas and Tarrant counties ousted Republican incumbents.
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"We went from 21 to 19. Why did we do that? You know, I fought for that change in that blocker bill from the time I was a freshman Senator because we were a majority that allowed the minority to overrule us," Patrick said, offering a sentiment that Hillary Clinton surely agrees with. "If we are still the majority, but the minority has the power to overrule us, we cannot let that stand."
A couple of months before the 2018 election, the Observer talked with Rice University political scientist Mark Jones about the consequences for Patrick, if he were forced to lead a smaller Republican Senate caucus. The biggest issue Patrick would face, Jones said, was a matter of perception.
"It's one thing to go from a two-thirds to a three-fifths, but there's no really normal fraction down there [below three-fifths]," Jones said. "Patrick would start to look pretty weak then. If you have to keep changing the rules of the game to benefit yourself, that starts to make you look a little weak."