Much electoral campaign attention in Texas is focused on the race for Governor. However, a quick look at the structure of the Executive Branch shows that the Governor holds remarkably little formal executive power and instead must share that power with multiple independently elected officers. In fact, arguing that the Lieutenant Governor and the Comptroller of Public Accounts each hold more power than the Governor. Why, then, do Texans focus on the Governor’s office and largely ignore the others?
Unless we do exhaustive polling of the attitudes of Texas residents, we cannot know for sure why they tend to focus on the gubernatorial races and not on other races. However, we can speculate about why this is. We can say that there are two main reasons why the focus tends to be on the governorship.
First, the governor of Texas does have some real powers. That person is by no means irrelevant to state politics. For example, while the executive power in Texas is widely dispersed, the governor has the power to appoint many of the people who hold some degree of executive power. The governor gets to appoint many hundreds of officials to various positions in the executive branch. This gives him or her power to put political allies in office and, thus, to shape the way in which the government will function. As another example, the governor has the power to veto bills and to use a line-item veto to veto specific parts of bills. This is an important power as well because it allows the governor to influence the sorts of legislation that get passed. Because the governor has real formal powers, people tend to pay attention to gubernatorial races.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the governor has what Theodore Roosevelt famously called the “bully pulpit.” What this means is that the governor is more visible than other officials. It is easier for the governor to get media attention than it is for any other government official. In part because of this, people tend to identify the governor as the most important person in the state government. This does not give the governor any formal power, but it does give him or her a great deal of informal power. The governor can use his or her visibility to push an agenda in a way that no other official can. Because the governor is so much more visible than any other official, people pay attention to gubernatorial races.
In short then, there are two main reasons why Texans pay more attention to gubernatorial races. Part of it is the governor’s formal powers. A greater part, however, is the fact that the governor is simply more visible and that people think that he or she is very important. Because they think the governor is important, they pay a great deal of attention to gubernatorial elections.