McALLEN, RGV – Former Republican state senator Dan Patrick had such a good first session as lieutenant governor he deserves to be ranked as highly as the late Bob Bullock, a legendary presiding officer of the Texas Senate.
This is the view of state Sen. Eddie Lucio, who accompanied Patrick on a swing through the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday. Lucio, a Democrat from Brownsville, is the fourth longest serving current state senator. There have been six lieutenant governors during his time in the Senate, which started in January, 1991.
“This session was incredibly good for me. If I had to choose one of the 15 sessions I have served in the state legislature, I would rate this session as No. 1 and would I rate it No. 1 because of the leadership of Dan Patrick,” Lucio said.
Asked what Patrick’s best attributes are as a lieutenant governor, Lucio said:
“He is a man of great intellect, a man who is down to earth; a man who, when you talk to him, gives you full attention. When you want to see him his door is always open. When you want to talk about an issue he is well prepared to articulate that issue himself. You are talking about someone who has been a former senator, a man who now has a leadership role, who understands the role of a senator and one who, because of his visits to the Valley on numerous occasions over the last eight or nine years, understands what this community is all about and the significance of a party’s place in the overall Texas structure.”
Lucio said the State of Texas is “blessed” to have Patrick serving as lieutenant governor. “Political parties mean nothing to me when it comes to showing leadership, showing sensitivity to the issues and he has done that. He has won me over and I am humbled to call him my friend.”
Going into the session many believed Patrick would fall flat on his face, Lucio said. “He has done what many never thought would happen. That is to bring the Senate together, both Democrats and Republicans. I witnessed it first hand for five months. I have a lot of respect for the lieutenant governor and vice versa. He was there whenever we needed him. At our caucus meetings he was addressing the issues we thought were most important. I for one believe… and I will say this because I have served with wonderful leaders, many of them close friends, that in this one session, his freshman session, he has been No. 1 in my book.”
Even above Bullock, Lucio was asked. “Above Bullock,” Lucio responded. “Bullock was incredible. He was an incredible leader. He gave me the positions I sought. He made me part of the Finance Committee, he gave me a standing committee. He was my political friend but Bullock at times did not bring everyone together like Dan has done. Bullock was different. He was a man who could get the job done. He did an incredible job for Texas. I also liked Bullock because he was bipartisan and he worked close to George W. But, it has been Dan Patrick who, because of his Christian values, because of his pro-life stance, has won me over like no one else.”
Patrick was in the Valley to tout the achievements of the 84th Legislature, which ended Monday. He flew into McAllen Airport on a private jet and held a news conference at McCreery Aviation, flanked by Lucio and state Sen. Juan Hinojosa. Patrick gave an overview of the session and also listed some of the top issues addressed for the Valley.
A number of political pundits in Austin have said the 84th Legislature was dull, that no big-ticket items were addressed. Asked by a reporter what he thought of the comments of these pundits, Patrick said: “They were asleep, apparently, for 140 days.” He then went on to list some of the top accomplishments of the session, including more funding for border security, education and transportation.
“If you go down the list on what the Governor and I campaigned on and what the people asked us to do, all across the state, (people said) improve border security. Done – more money being spent on border security including a new company of rangers here, more DPS, a training center that we had talked about earlier, both senators, we talked about this coming to the Valley,” Patrick said.
“Property tax cut, first time in a decade. A franchise tax cut that has never happened of this size. School reform, in schools we are putting nearly $50 million into math and reading programs so that students can all read by fourth grade level. We increased spending on education by about $3 billion in total, including the growth factor.
“Immediately we are putting a little over $2 billion into transportation with Prop. 1 (still to come), and what we did is ended the gas tax diversion. People have asked us to do that forever. That happened this session.”
Patrick added that supporters of the Second Amendment should be happy. “For Second Amendment folks, open carry passed this time.”
He then referenced healthcare. “We have added $60 million for a program to have residency slots for every doctor who graduates from medical school because the State of Texas pays about 90 percent of their tuition. We do not have a residency slot they go to another state and we have ended up educating doctors for other states.”
Patrick said he could go on, down a long list of important bills that were passed.
“Anyone who says not much happened… and the Senate… I do not think I have had such a smooth landing at the airport, well we had a smooth landing of the session, we adjourned earlier than any time in the last 50 years and we got our work done pretty efficiently and quietly throughout the session.”
Interviewed before the news conference, Sen. Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he believed it was a great session.
“When people say they want big issues they want are big fights. The reality is we are there to govern and run our state and deal with issues. Many in the press expected Lieutenant Governor Patrick to go off the rails and he didn’t. He handled the process very well. He was under a lot of stress and pressure and yet he handled his job as presiding officer with grace. I was impressed in that regard,” Hinojosa said.
“The press expects headlines and they love to see big fights and drama but the reality is we took care of the state’s needs, in that we passed a budget, $209.4 billion – way under the spending limit. At the same time we funded public education, the growth of 80,000 new students a year, plus we added an additional $1.6 billion. And, we left enough money in reserve to deal with any decision that is made by the Texas Supreme Court sometime this fall on whether or not the present public school finance system in place is constitutional or unconstitutional.”
Hinojosa said lawmakers also focused on transportation. “We took care of TxDOT by providing funding and stopped the diversion from Fund 6 to the tune of $1.2 billion. We also stopped spending dedicated funds for a purpose for which they were not collected from $4.3 billion down to $3.2 billion. So we did a lot of nuts and bolts to have a solid government.”
Editor’s Note: The picture gallery at the top of this page shows photos taken at McCreery Aviation in McAllen on June 4, 2015.