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Dewhurst changes top Texas Senate posts

By Chris Tomlinson, Associated Press
Oct. 4, 2012 at 10 p.m.


AUSTIN - Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst shuffled a senior Democrat out of the higher education committee chairmanship Wednesday and promoted Republicans to key posts in an effort to create a more conservative state Senate.

Dewhurst removed Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, as chairwoman of the higher education committee and replaced her with Republican Sen. Kel Seliger. Zaffirini is the second-longest serving state senator and a strong supporter of the University of Texas.

In the past, she has opposed Republican Gov. Rick Perry's attempts to make significant changes to how the UT system operates. Seliger is a key Perry ally.

Texas' lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and chooses which lawmakers chair the committees that develop legislation. A committee chairman can determine if a law moves forward or stalls in committee.

Dewhurst also promoted conservative commentator Sen. Dan Patrick to chair the education committee, which is in charge of public schools.

Patrick, one of the Senate's most conservative members, is a strong advocate of charter schools and a system that would allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools.

"My focus will be on accountability with flexibility, education through innovation, more local control tied to local responsibility, and the opportunity for families to choose the school that best fits the needs of their child," Patrick said in a statement.

The Texas Charter Schools Association welcomed Patrick's appointment, but the Texas State Teacher's Association expressed concern that his chairmanship will hurt public schools.

"Instead of trying to enrich private school operators with tax dollars, the Legislature should expand public educational opportunities for all Texas children," group spokesman Clay Robison said in a statement.

"And, the place to start is by restoring the $5.4 billion that was cut from public schools last session, restoring the 25,000 lost school jobs and reducing the size of thousands of overcrowded classrooms."

Dewhurst also said he eliminated the international relations and redistricting committees as well as the sub-committee on floods and evacuations to save money.

"This upcoming session will be difficult," Dewhurst said in a statement.

"As a lifelong businessman, I have constantly tried to challenge my colleagues and myself through new leadership opportunities and rotating assignments that require fresh conservative thinking and conservative solutions."

Other changes included Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, taking over economic development; Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, taking over intergovernmental relations; Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, moving to chair finance; Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, taking over jurisprudence; Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, chairing nominations; Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, moving to open government; and Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, chairing transportation.

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