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Government/Politics

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Names Senate Panels; Further Sidelines Democrats

AUSTIN — Democrats in the Texas Senate were even more sidelined by the Republican majority Friday, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced committee appointments with the minority party in charge of only two panels.

Patrick, a Tea Party favorite, had warned he was under no obligation to appoint Democrats to leadership positions for the 2015 session. The only two Democrats to get them were the longest-serving member of the Senate and a border lawmaker who has sided with the GOP in critical votes in the last two years.

Among the key new roles for Republicans was Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound being appointed the first female chair of the powerful Finance Committee.

"I promised Texas voters that we would get the job done and we have the team in place to get to work," Patrick said in a statement.

Sen. John Whitmire of Houston was one of the two Democrats given chairmanships. He will keep his longtime role as head of the Criminal Justice Committee. The other Democrat is Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, who will lead Intergovernmental Relations.

Lucio's position will be seen as a reward for siding with Republicans on abortion restrictions, which sparked weeks of protests at the state Capitol in 2013, and earlier this week on a rule change that boosted Republican voting power.

Republicans hold a 20-11 majority in the upper chamber and Lucio voted with the GOP on Wednesday to reduce the number of Senators needed to bring bills to a vote from 21 to 19. The rule change cast aside nearly 70 years of Senate tradition and delivered on a Patrick campaign promise to boost Republican power.

The only Republican who didn't cast a vote for the rule change, Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, was stripped of his chairmanship over a panel that oversees agricultural affairs.

Last session under Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Democrats had six of 18 chairmanships — but the Senate voted this week to cut the total number of committees to 14. Patrick, who defeated Dewhurst in the GOP primary last year, then ensured the minority party would run just two of them.

Also notable was that the three-member panel on border security includes only one senator, Lucio, whose district lies on the Texas border with Mexico. The others on the panel, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Sen. Bob Hall, are from North Texas. (AP)