Texas Governor: The Basics

Generally speaking, governors are the most powerful state offices: “most governors have more power relative to their state legislatures than does the U.S. president relative to the U.S. Congress” (American Government, 2019); however, this is not the case in Texas.

Plural Executive = Constitutionally Weak, but Politically Strong Governor

The Texas Constitution of 1876 divided executive power between several directly-elected positions that comprise the plural executive due to Texans’ distrust of executive authority, which was exacerbated due to experiences under president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and governor E.J. Davis.  Even though the Texas Constitution of 1876 refers to the governor as the chief executive officer of the state, the governor does not have formal authority over the executive branch, making it difficult for the governor to develop and roll out a policy agenda, coordinate policy implementation efforts within the executive branch, and assume accountability for the administration of the state’s laws.  The strength of the Texas governor’s office has grown over time alongside the general growth in government powers at both the federal and state levels, but the office today is still relatively weak (at least in terms of its formal powers).  The best way to characterize the modern governor is institutionally weak, with opportunities to be politically strong.

Selection, Terms, & Qualifications

Under the Texas Constitution of 1876’s original form, the Texas governor was elected by statewide popular vote and served two-year terms.  Most of Texas’s governors from annexation in 1845 through the mid-1900s served at least two consecutive two-year terms (four years).  In 1972, our state constitution was amended to reflect this fact, extending the governor’s term from two years to four years; this change went into effect in 1975.

The gubernatorial election falls during federal midterm election years (in other words, between presidential election years — 2014, 2018, 2022 . . .), when voter turnout tends to be lower.  According to the Texas Constitution of 1876, gubernatorial inaugurations occur “on the first Tuesday after the organization of the legislature, or as soon thereafter as practicable” – meaning that the beginning of a governor’s term begins in January following the gubernatorial election, coinciding with the beginning of a regular legislative session.

The Texas Constitution of 1876 sets forth the basic qualifications to serve as governor of Texas:

  • 30 years of age
  • U.S. citizen
  • a resident of Texas for 5 years

Removal & Succession

Once elected, most governors remain in office until they either fail to be reelected, choose to not seek reelection, or resign (like George W. Bush did when he became president).

The Texas Constitution of 1876 provides a mechanism to remove the governor, other elected officials in the plural executive, and state judges of state district courts, courts of appeals, or the Texas Supreme Court during their term: impeachment.  The impeachment process in Texas is procedurally similar to impeachment in federal government:

  • the Texas House of Representatives has the power of impeachment; they initiate articles of impeachment with a majority vote
  • the Texas Senate serves as the trial for impeachment; conviction and removal requires a two-thirds vote

In the event that a governor is unable to fulfill his or her term, the Texas Constitution outlines a clear line of succession: (1) Lieutenant Governor; (2) President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate; (3) Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives; and (4) Attorney General.  There have been times when the Lieutenant Governor became the Governor through succession — William P. Hobby became governor after James Edward Ferguson was removed, and Rick Perry became governor after George W. Bush resigned.  “At no time in Texas history has succession officially gone beyond the lieutenant governor” (Davis, n.d.).