With one special session on school finance already in the bag and another underway, Governor Perry is being criticized for not calling an election to replace the late Rep. Joe Moreno sooner than he did.
Under state law, special elections to fill vacancies in the Legislature should be set for the next uniform election date. But the law gives governors discretion on setting the date if the Legislature will be in regular session or if a special session appears imminent.
Two weeks after Moreno was killed, Perry scheduled a Nov. 8 election to fill his seat.
Since then, Perry has called two special sessions and urged lawmakers to overhaul the tax structure that pays for the state’s public schools, leaving the 135,000 residents in Moreno’s district without a voice in the debate.
Robert Black, Perry’s spokesman, said the governor followed the law requiring him to schedule the balloting for the next uniform election date. He could move the date up, Black said, only if he knew that a special legislative session was imminent between the time the vacancy occurred and the next uniform election date.
State Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, pointed out that the power to call a special session rests solely with the governor. And if Perry didn’t realize in late May that a special session would probably be needed to complete a school-finance overhaul, he was the only one in Austin who didn’t, Dunnam said.
“Everyone knew by the middle of May that the school-finance plan was on life support,” Dunnam said. “And Perry was saying all the while that if we didn’t get it done [in the regular session], he’d call us right back.”
Black rejected the assertion.
“The governor had every reason to believe that lawmakers would complete their work on time,” he said. “Hindsight is 20-20.”
I’m not sure offhand what Perry’s deadline was for calling this election. I think it’s 20 days, in which case he made the call at the very last minute, on May 26. How likely was a continued stalemate on school finance reform at that point? My answer is “pretty darned likely”, though I’ll concede I can certainly see why Perry at least wanted to project an aura of confidence that things would happen. Be that as it may, the people of HD143 have been without representation since May 6, and with the razor-thin margins that some versions of HB2 have been passed by, it’s not exactly inconvenient to Perry that the Dems are one vote down. There’s likely nothing that can be done about it now, unfortunately.