By Failing to Appoint State Officers, Gov. Abbott Is Making an Unconstitutional Power Grab

In June 2016, the Texas Tribune reported that there were 336 state officers who were serving in their offices and exercising their statutory powers even though their terms had expired, some up to five years, and they had not been reappointed by the governor. Gov. Greg Abbott's office stated they were working on the backlog, and it would soon be taken care of.But the results of a document request to the governor's office last week showed there are now 418 state officers serving in their offices and exercising their statutory powers even though their terms had expired. Some have been serving as many as nine years, without reappointment. Clearly, the number of state officers, commonly called holdover officers, is growing every year of Abbott's administration and their "terms" are lasting longer and longer.This situation is blatantly unconstitutional and these officers should be removed immediately.The Texas Constitution creates a weak governor state. All major executive officers are directly elected by the people: the attorney general, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house and the comptroller. State officers are appointed by the governor, but they must be confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate; they serve two- or six-year terms, and they may only be removed by two-thirds of the Senate. Thus, they are called independent officers for the governor has no direct control over their actions.However, holdover officers serve at the governor's pleasure, are not confirmed by the Senate, have no set term, and may be removed by the governor at any time. Therefore, the Abbott can directly control their actions and the agencies that they have power to direct. That makes him a very powerful governor and in essence, allows him to create a fiefdom of officers that do what he says and act pursuant to his wishes.It appears Abbott believes he has this legal authority based on the Texas Constitution, which allows an existing, appointed officer to serve beyond his or her term until a successor is qualified. We do not know Abbott's interpretation exactly, for despite repeated requests, he has remained silent. If this is his interpretation, it is grossly wrong and could not withstand judicial review. This interpretation simply guts the meaning of the Constitution.After several appeals to the attorney general, the lieutenant governor, and the Senate nominating committee, nothing has been done. They appear to not have the wherewithal to stand up to Abbott and declare his acts unconstitutional.Abbott swore to uphold the Texas Constitution and to do what is best for the citizens. It is time to stand up and do what is right, to stop acting in an unconstitutional manner and to remove these officers and the illegal authority he has over them. His executive branch powers should not come at a cost of violating the Texas Constitution.Ron Beal is a law professor at Baylor University. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.   Continue reading...

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