TW Explainer: How Is a Statewide Office Vacancy Filled?

First Lady Anita Perry (l) and Rick Perry during the inaugural parade on January 21, 2003.
First Lady Anita Perry (l) and Rick Perry during the inaugural parade on January 21, 2003.

The procedures for replacing state lawmakers who leave office during their term are relatively clear, as that’s a frequent occurrence.

What’s not so frequent is elected statewide executive officials leaving their office before their term is over. So what happens if that’s the case?

The most prominent example of a statewide executive official leaving their term early is, of course, George W. Bush, who ended his gubernatorial term after he was elected president. Rick Perry, who was the lieutenant governor, replaced Bush and was then elected to a full term as governor in 2002.

But other statewide executive officials — such as the attorney general, comptroller and commissioners — can leave an elective office vacant, too. (So can elected statewide judges and justices, but that’s a whole other story.)

An office can become vacant in multiple ways, including the officeholders' resignation, death, removal from office, acceptance of another office that they can’t hold at the same time or if they’re deemed ineligible to serve. That last reason includes if the officeholder is convicted of a felony, which bars anyone in the state from holding an elective office.

Once a vacancy happens, the governor must appoint a replacement, which requires Senate approval if it’s during the session. But that appointee wouldn’t necessarily serve out the rest of the term.

Let’s pause to consider what happens if a state legislator leaves office during his or her term. A special election is generally held to determine a replacement. That election can often happen on a separate date from other elections, so the state legislative race can sometimes be the only race on the ballot.

That’s not the case with these statewide executive officials. Elections for those offices only occur on even-numbered general election years, so they can only happen in 2014, 2016, 2018 and so on, when a number of other races are on the ballot.

But there is a point when it becomes too late to elect someone to serve the rest of the term, which means the governor’s appointee would finish off the term.

That happens if the office becomes vacant after the 74th day of the year of the next-to-last general election before the term ends. That sounds a bit complicated, but here’s what that language means.

Almost all statewide executive elective officers serve four-year terms, with the exception being railroad commissioners, who serve six-year staggered terms.

Here’s an example for officials who serve four-year terms. Let’s say an official is elected in November 2014 but leaves office before the 74th day in 2016. Then, voters would choose who finishes off the term on their 2016 general election ballots. The governor's appointee would serve until the winner of that 2016 election takes office.

If that official instead left office after that 74th day of 2016, then the governor’s appointee would finish off the term, and there would be no election for that office until it’s up again in 2018.

And recent history provides an example of a six-year term executive official leaving office early. When Michael Williams left his railroad commissioner term early to run for Congress, Barry Smitherman was appointed in 2011 to take his place.

But the term technically didn’t end until 2014, which meant there would be a general election date in 2012 before the term ended. Smitherman, then, had to run for the seat in 2012 to hold onto that spot and serve out the rest of the term.

And if he wanted to serve a full term as commissioner, Smitherman would’ve had to run for the seat again in 2014. He chose not to and instead ran for attorney general, although he lost in the primaries.

Williams, meanwhile, lost the 2012 primary for that congressional seat. But later that year, Perry appointed him as state education commissioner, a position that’s appointed, not elected.

House Appropriations Chairmen, Through the Years

Rep. John Otto R-Dayton on May 29, 2015 holds budget binder on his lap
Rep. John Otto R-Dayton on May 29, 2015 holds budget binder on his lap

Correction appended.

John Otto made waves this week with his announcement that he won't seek re-election to the Texas House next year.

In making that decision, the Dayton Republican ensured that his one term as head of the powerful House Appropriations Committee this session will be his only one.

His announcement also got us thinking over here. Is Otto the norm in serving just the one term as the House's chief budget writer? Or is he an outlier?

The answer to both questions would seem to be yes, depending on how you frame things.


Looking back over the last 35 legislative sessions, 10 of the 15 men to serve as Appropriations chairmen served in just one session. But it's become increasingly common among more recent chairmen to serve long tenures.

Of the past seven chairmen, more than half of those served over multiple sessions.

Here's the full list with the sessions served by each chairman. In some instances, more than one chairman served during a single session, and that is reflected in our tally:

Claud Henry Gilmer — 1 (50th)

Ray Kirkpatrick — 1 (51st)

Willard (William) Rampy — 1 (52nd)

Max C. Smith — 3 (53rd, 54th and 55th)

W.S. "Bill" Heatly — 6 (56th, 58th, 59th, 60th, 61st and 62nd)

James Cotten — 1 (57th)

Bill Finck — 1 (62nd)

Neil Caldwell — 1 (63rd)

Bill Presnal — 5 (64th, 65th, 66th, 67th and 68th)

Jim D. Rudd — 5 (68th, 69th, 70th, 71st and 72nd)

Robert Junell — 5 (73rd, 74th, 75th, 76th, and 77th)

Talmadge Heflin — 1 (78th)

Jim Pitts — 5 (78th, 79th, 81st, 82nd and 83rd)

Warren Chisum — 1 (80th)

John Otto — 1 (84th)

Correction: Due to an error in the reference material, Doyle Willis was mistakenly listed as a chairman. His name has been removed and the copy and graph have been updated.

Abbott Replenishes Campaign War Chest in Nine Days

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to reporters at the Security Operations Center at the Department of Public Safety on May 12, 2015.
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to reporters at the Security Operations Center at the Department of Public Safety on May 12, 2015.

Gov. Greg Abbott continues to prove himself a master fundraiser.

His campaign announced on Wednesday that he will report a haul of $8.25 million in the nine-day period between the end of the legislative session’s moratorium on fundraising and the cutoff for the July 15 semiannual report.

That works out to roughly $920,000 raised each day from June 22 through June 30. It also pumps up his campaign war chest to $17.7 million in cash on hand.

During that period, his campaign said, Abbott received more than 2,000 donations, with more than 80 percent of them coming from online.

The fundraising haul is also significantly bigger than the $4.8 million raised in the first half of 2013, the last time the Legislature met in regular session.


Senate District 1 candidate David Simpson announced that he raised more than $150,000 from more than 120 contributors in the eight days between the end of the legislative session's moratorium on campaign contributions and the cutoff date to report fundraising activity for the July 15 report.

The Simpson campaign noted the total does not include any candidate loans.

Simpson, a Longview Republican currently representing House District 7, is facing off against fellow House colleague Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in the GOP primary contest for the Senate seat being vacated by Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.


We’ve also got some fundraising announcements from the race for Houston mayor.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who was under the same fundraising moratorium as Abbott, raised $750,000 in those nine days of activity before the June 30 cutoff for the semiannual report.

That, as the campaign noted, meant that Turner was raising money at a more-than-$80,000-a-day clip.

Businessman Bill King, who wasn’t affected by the fundraising moratorium on state officeholders, will report raising $1.25 million by the June 30 deadline, according to an announcement from his campaign.

Of that total, the King campaign said that $750,000 came from about 600 donations. That would suggest the remainder was money that the candidate gave to his campaign.


Jeb Bush will be coming to Austin in mid-August.

The former Florida governor's presidential campaign put out a save-the-date for a fundraiser on Friday, Aug. 14, at a to-be-determined location.

The invitation obtained by The Texas Tribune encourages both personal donations and bundling. Individual suggested donations range from $500 to the federal maximum for a primary campaign, $2,700.

Rick Perry has brought on board Karen Fesler as co-chair of his Iowa campaign.

She joins Sam Clovis at the top of the Hawkeye State operation for Perry.


Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Tuesday that he was happily skipping what has become an annual tradition for his office: issuing some short-term debt to cover costs as the fiscal year closes out.

The comptroller has issued Texas Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRAN) every year for nearly three decades, according to Hegar's office. The shortfall emerges in large part because the state is required to provide nearly half of its annual payments to local school districts in the first three months of the fiscal year.

This year, lawmakers left enough money in the state's general fund as well as in the Economic Stabilization Fund (i.e., the Rainy Day Fund) to cover the shortfall without a TRAN.

Inside Intelligence: About Those Paxton Controversies...

For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we asked about Attorney General Ken Paxton's future.

Not too much ambiguity this week on how the insiders view things: On the first question, about whether the current special prosecutors' investigation will end in an indictment, nearly 90 percent said yes.

More than 70 percent don't attribute a political motive to the investigation, while 80-plus percent don't expect to see a resolution to the legal issues before the end of the year.

The insiders are a little more split on the question of whether Paxton will be able to serve out his full term of office.

Fully 60 percent don't believe he will make it to the end of his term. Another 20 percent think that he will serve out his term. A similar number said they don't know at this point whether will Paxton survives as a state officeholder.

We collected comments along the way, and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:


Do you think Ken Paxton will be indicted?

• "Yes, Special Prosecutors have to make a name some way, and what better than to indict and Attorney General."

• "If a ham sandwich can be indicted, then Ken Paxton can be indicted. Convicted? That's a different story..."

• "President Reagan's '11th Commandment' of not speaking ill of a fellow Republican is not applicable here; General Paxton's behavior and comments are so appalling, and criminally-intended, he deserves to be indicted and judged by a jury."

• "A Grand Jury in McKinney does not indict a Ham Sandwich. It must be bad."

• "Securities fraud is no longer waved off as crime-light."


Do you think there is a political motive for his prosecution?

• "No, he broke the law. Guessing the Republican leadership was thinking the Texas Rangers would be a better place, but alas, they too follow the evidence."

• "How can there not be political motivation in prosecuting a state attorney general? However, what matters isn't motivation but whether there are legitimate grounds to indict Paxton."

• "Yes, but that doesn't mean it isn't also justified."

• "By who?? In GOP friendly McKinney?  My goodness, this is the poster child that challenged the Speaker!"

• "Maybe legislators will rethink their recent move to local prosecutions."


Do you expect a resolution to his legal troubles before year-end?

• "Which troubles, the special prosecutors or the SEC? Either way, there's no way this all wraps up in less than six months."

• "The clearer and more convincing the evidence, even his 'friends' will not want to see this drag out. Otherwise, it could take a while."

• "This is a long-term process that will only solidify his base. Those activist judges are getting out of control."

• "Only if he resigns rather than fights it to the bitter end, hurting his party."

• "Paxton will resign before the end of the year and Governor Abbott will appoint Don Willett as his successor."


Does Paxton end up serving out his entire term as attorney general?

• "No, eventually it all comes crashing down."

• "Way too early to tell. We will wait to see what the 'something else' is that the Rangers discovered while they were looking for whatever they thought they were looking for."

• "He's going to ultimately prevail in court, there's no question in my mind on that. And because he'll prevail, there's no reason for him to leave office."

• "He will be One-term Paxton. He serves until the end, but will cut a deal to save himself from visiting the pen."

• "Unfortunately, this is going to hang around his neck and get heavier and heavier."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Dave Beckwith, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Raif Calvert, Kerry Cammack, Snapper Carr, Corbin Casteel, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Kevin Cooper, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, June Deadrick, Holly DeShields, Glenn Deshields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, John Esparza, Tom Forbes, Neftali Garcia, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Jim Grace, Clint Hackney, Bill Hammond, Ken Hodges, Laura Huffman, Deborah Ingersoll, Mark Jones, Lisa Kaufman, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Ruben Longoria, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Nelson Nease, Todd Olsen, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Wayne Pierce, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Propes, Ted Melina Raab, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, A.J. Rodriguez, Jeff Rotkoff, Grant Ruckel, Andy Sansom, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Robert Scott, Christopher Shields, Nancy Sims, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Bill Stevens, Colin Strother, Sherry Sylvester, Sara Tays, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, Corbin Van Arsdale, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Woody Widrow, Seth Winick, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Saturday, July 11

  • Working Breakfast with Houston mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner8302 Colonial Ln., Houston (8:30-10 a.m.)
  • Clean Water Action and Environment Texas "float-in" rally on Lady Bird Lake; Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, S. Lamar Blvd., Austin (11 a.m.)
  • Town Hall with state Reps. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, and Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale; 2600 Motley Dr., Mesquite (11 a.m.-12 p.m.)

Tuesday, July 14

  • Town Hall with state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas; 7112 Gaston Ave., Dallas (6:30-7:30 p.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Days after an undocumented laborer was charged with the murder of a San Francisco woman, former Gov. Rick Perry called for federal funding to be pulled from so-called sanctuary cities — the common term for local governments that don't enforce federal immigration laws.

After a decade in the Texas House and fresh off his first session as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, announced he won’t seek re-election. Otto joins a group of experienced lawmakers who aren’t returning to the Legislature next session.

Texas collected less state sales tax revenue in June than it did in the same month a year earlier, ending a remarkable 62-month streak of growth, Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Wednesday. The state collected $2.2 billion in state sales taxes in June, down 1.4 percent compared with June 2014. Hegar said the drop “was expected due to the slowdown in the oil and gas mining sector.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller defended his new nutrition policy Wednesday, praising his department's decision to "abolish outdated and unneeded state mandates" and allow schools to install deep fryers and soda machines if they wish. Miller, who’s been in office for six months, spoke at the annual State of Agriculture address.

University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall was asked to leave a closed-door regents meeting Wednesday in which his lawsuit against UT Chancellor William McRaven was discussed. The regents later voted to urge Hall to drop his lawsuit, saying it could be “costly and an unnecessary distraction.”

The name of Attorney General Ken Paxton, already facing a potential indictment by the state for first-degree felony securities fraud, surfaced in a federal probe of a company in which he is an investor. Paxton owns at least 10,000 shares in Servergy, which is based in his hometown of McKinney.

A Granbury gay couple on Monday obtained a marriage license from the Hood County Clerk's office after filing a lawsuit against the clerk in federal court. The couple will move forward with the lawsuit until the clerk's office agrees to issue marriage licenses to all couples.

Ted Cruz said his campaign and the super PACs that support it raised about $10 million during the second quarter, bringing the total available to promote his campaign to $51 million. That might be enough to outpace all but one other candidate in a Republican field that is trying to catch up with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the fundraising race.

Political People and their Moves

Erin Lunceford was named judge of the 61st Judicial District Court in Harris County by Gov. Greg Abbott for a term to expire at the next general election.

Abbott has made seven appointments to the Texas Board of Nursing:

•    Diana Flores, Francis Stokes, Allison Edwards and David E. Saucedo II were appointed for terms to expire Jan. 31, 2021.

•    Kathy Leader-Horn was reappointed for a term to expire on Jan. 31, 2021.

•    Doris Jackson and Laura Disque were appointed for terms to expire Jan. 31, 2017, and Jan. 31, 2019, respectively.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, is joining law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP as a corporate partner. He was previously at Haynes and Boone LLP.

McCall Johnson has hired on with Recurrent Energy as government affairs manager for the ERCOT, SPP and MISO regions. Prior to that, she was an advisor to Chairman Donna Nelson at the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Heath Mayor Lorne Liechty will run as a Republican for the House District 33 seat being vacated by Scott Turner. Liechty was elected mayor in 2012 after serving on city council from 2004-12.

State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, on Tuesday announced that he’s running for re-election in House District 2.

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, announced on Thursday that he will run for re-election in the East Texas-based House District 9.

State Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-Mission, also announced Thursday that he is seeking re-election to Hidalgo County-based House District 41.

State Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, announced on Monday that he will run for re-election. He is in his seventh term representing the Harris County-based House District 128.

House District 7 candidate Jay Dean on Thursday received the endorsement of the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC.

Deaths: Ruben Hope Jr., who served four terms in the Texas House from 1999 until 2007, passed away July 3. He was 78.

Quotes of the Week

There is no good-looking Confederate flag. It all stands for the same thing — secession.

Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP, on removing the battle flag from the Capitol grounds

But when we gave up trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln.

Rick Perry in a speech last week in Washington, D.C., in which he said Republicans must reach out to black voters

That’s not the conversation for this day.

State Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, disappointing those on Monday who thought he would announce for House speaker

I … shall resist unlawful federal or state court encroachments upon the prerogative of the people of Texas to protect natural marriage.

Irion County Clerk Molly Criner, defying the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage

But it’s not the horrible problems that usually are the things that cause foodborne illness outbreaks. It’s the little things.

Bill Marler, an attorney who specializes in foodborne illnesses, on the challenges in keeping foods safe to eat

The problem we have is not serving healthy foods, but instead of having healthy children we have healthy trash cans.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in defense of his new nutrition policy removing a ban on deep fryers in schools