This is a particularly relevant question considering how Texas has become a focal point of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people blame governor Greg Abbott for the spike of COVID-19 cases in his state.
When people criticize Abbott, we might say they’re criticizing his reluctance to utilize his "informal" powers. Remember, when we talk about “informal,” we're talking about something unofficial or broad.
For example, if you're invited to a party where you should wear "formal" attire, there's a certain, specific way you have to dress. Yet if the attire is "informal," there's not a certain way you have to dress. There's a wide range of things you can wear.
To talk about the Texas governor's informal powers, we need to talk about the broad powers the Constitution grants all governors. Think about the 10th Amendment. It states,
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
This is rather informal. What powers are we talking about? We could be talking about a wide range of powers, including the power to shut down business and ban peaceful gatherings during an emergency.
It might seem inappropriate that in a purported democracy one person has the power to make so many critical choices. When we think of governors—whether in Texas or in some other state—we typically think of their formal powers, such as their ability to sign laws, veto laws, pardon prisoners, and so on. Yet the coronavirus has shed light on the centrality of their informal powers.
Democrats in Texas have said that their governor "continues to lead from behind." Could that be another way of saying that he's not being assertive enough when it comes to enforcing his informal powers?
Meanwhile, there's reports that Texas Republicans are frustrated with their governor's increasing willingness to harness his informal powers. Could this be another way of saying that the governor has too many informal powers?
We might wonder why Abbott doesn’t pivot to more formal powers. Abbott has the clear, formal power to convene a special session of the Legislature for specific purposes. Why doesn't he? Maybe the Legislature can pass a law requiring its citizens to wear face masks. Then it’d be formal—or clear—and perhaps not so controversial.
The amount of informal powers the governor possesses (or perhaps doesn’t possess) seems to be making people in Texas, including the governor himself, rather uneasy.