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Patrick should’ve stayed in Texas for Legislature

January 9, 2019

Tuesday was one of the most important days in Texas politics this year — the opening of the Legislature — and voters might think that every state official would be in Austin to focus on the people’s business. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, unfortunately, had other priorities. He flew to Washington to support (or cheerlead) President Donald Trump before his televised speech on the government shutdown and border wall.

What was he thinking?

Patrick, the leader of social conservatives in Texas, has backed the president’s call for better border security and tighter immigration policies. He was also the chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Texas. At any other time, his partisan excursion to Washington would have been understandable.

But not on the opening day of the legislative session. The Texas House and Senate meet for only five months every two years. Even schoolkids know it’s a big deal.

Patrick is not just a high-ranking state official. The lieutenant governor is the presiding officer of the state Senate. Our 31 state senators and the people who elected them needed him in Austin on Day 1, meeting and talking with as many people as possible, establishing contacts, getting off to a strong start instead of playing catchup later.

Republican Sen. Jane Nelson opened the Senate session in Patrick’s place and said lamely, “When the White House calls you to go to Washington, you go.”

Actually, if you’re the lieutenant governor of Texas on the first day of the legislative session, you don’t go. You politely but firmly tell the president that you have something more important to do on that special day and will get back with him later.

Patrick could have easily conveyed his thoughts on the border to Trump via telephone on Tuesday and met with him another time. Trump’s speech on the border and shutdown could have easily proceeded without his immediate input. Texas does have the longest border with Mexico of any state, but this is a national issue, not a state one.

There is a difference between campaigning and governing, and too many Republicans have been weak on governing in recent years. Once you are elected, you buckle down and focus on the reasons you were sent to a state capital or to Washington.

Dan Patrick failed that challenge on Tuesday. For the rest of this 140-day session, he needs to stay in Austin and work with all 31 state senators — including the Democratic ones. There is no shortage of important state issues to consider, and Texans deserve his complete attention to his duties.

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