Lieutenant Governor

By: J. William Davis

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: July 21, 2021

The office of lieutenant governor was established by Article IV, Sections 1 and 16, of the Constitution of 1876. As a state office it was first established by the Constitution of 1845 and superseded the office of vice president of the Republic of Texas. The lieutenant governor was elected and served for two years. In 1972 Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment to increase the term of office to four years, effective with the election of 1974. The salary, as set by the constitution, is the same as that of a state senator when the lieutenant governor serves as the presiding officer of the Senate, and the same as the governor's when he assumes the governor's duties. He is also provided an apartment in the Capitol. A lieutenant governor must be at least thirty years old, a United States citizen, and a Texas resident for five years prior to the election. The administrative duties of the lieutenant governor are to exercise the powers of the governor's office in case of the governor's death, resignation, removal from office, or absence from the state. His legislative duties are to serve as presiding officer of the Senate, appoint the committees of the Senate, and cast the deciding vote in case of a tie. The lieutenant governor serves as chairman of the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Council. He is vice chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislative Education Board and is also a member of the Legislative Redistricting Board. Since World War II the lieutenant governor has exerted growing influence in lawmaking and in administration and public policy.

It was not customary for lieutenant governors to succeed themselves even for a second term before 1894. During that time only John A. Greer, Richard B. Hubbard, and Thomas B. Wheeler were elected to second terms of office. After serving one term, the incumbent frequently did not run again for lieutenant governor. Beginning with the election of George T. Jester in 1894, however, it became common for the lieutenant governor to seek two terms. The only lieutenant governors not reelected for a second term since Jester were W. A. Johnson, T. W. Davidson, Will H. Mays, and Lynch Davidson. Johnson was the only one of these who lost his bid for reelection. Other lieutenant governors chose not to run for a second term. The first lieutenant governor to serve three terms was Asbury B. Davidson. In the 1920s Barry Miller followed suit. Subsequently, Ben Ramsey and Preston Smith were elected more than twice. Though Ramsey holds the record of six terms, William P. Hobby actually served longer (from 1973 to 1991).

The office of lieutenant governor has been vacant several times. In seven cases the lieutenant governor has succeeded to the governor's office. One lieutenant governor, George W. Jones, was removed from office by Reconstruction forces, and one, James W. Flanagan, was elected to the United States Senate without ever occupying the lieutenant governor's office. The vacancies seem never to have raised problems. The Texas Constitution provides that the president pro tempore of the Senate perform the two constitutional duties of the office without actually succeeding to the office. He presides over the Senate when it is in session and is available to succeed to the governorship if that position should become vacant. At no time in Texas history has succession officially gone beyond the lieutenant governor. On a number of occasions when the lieutenant governor has acted temporarily as governor while the latter was out of the state, the lieutenant governor has also left the state to permit the president pro tem to act as "governor for a day."

Almost all the lieutenant governors have been members of the Democratic party. Only during the turbulent years surrounding secession, the Civil War, and Reconstruction have nominees of other parties won. During the first decade of Texas statehood, nominations were generally made by personal announcement or by caucus. Most of the candidates were Democrats, and a person was never elected with a clear majority. The rising competition of the American (Know-Nothing) party forced the Democrats to nominate by convention beginning in 1855. In 1859 Sam Houston and Edward Clark, running as independents with Know-Nothing backing, defeated the Democratic incumbents, Hardin R. Runnels and Francis R. Lubbock. The Democrats recaptured the offices in 1861 but were ousted from office by the military rule after the Civil War. A Republican governor was then elected, but the lieutenant governor's position remained vacant. The Democrats again captured both offices in 1873 and retained them until William P. Clements was elected as a Republican in 1978. Before the late twentieth century, the only other serious challenge to Democratic supremacy came with the rise of the People's party in the 1890s.

The advent of the direct primary in 1906 and the double primary in 1918 brought about a change in the nomination procedure (see WHITE PRIMARY and ELECTION LAWS). The real contest for state office now occurred in the primary; the general election was usually a mere formality in the lieutenant governor's race. As a general rule a candidate who ran to succeed himself had little opposition, but when the office was open the candidates multiplied. Usually the one who led in the first primary would win the nomination and election, but there are several notable exceptions to this rule. The first of these was T. W. Davidson, who came from behind in 1922 to win by a substantial margin in the second primary and the general election. Others who overcame a first primary deficit were Edgar E. Witt in 1930, Coke R. Stevenson in 1938, Ben Ramsey in 1950, and Preston Smith in 1962. In their bids for reelection all (except Davidson, who chose not to run) won rather easy victories.

The lieutenant governors of Texas have generally been men who were active in state politics before election to that office. Ordinarily they have served in the legislature, particularly in the Senate. They have sometimes sought the office as a climax to a political career, although frequently they have hoped to use the lieutenant governorship as a stepping-stone to higher office. The latter aspiration has generally not been fulfilled, however. In the early days of statehood several lieutenant governors entered the governor's race, but few were elected. Of the first eight lieutenant governors seven ran for governor, and two were elected under rather unusual circumstances. In 1857 Runnels defeated Houston, who was running for governor as an independent, while Lubbock was elected lieutenant governor. Two years later Houston defeated Runnels in his bid for reelection, while Clark defeated Lubbock for the lieutenant governor's post. At the next election (1861), both Lubbock and Clark ran for governor, and Lubbock was elected by a margin of 124 votes. Later, former lieutenant governors G. W. Jones, F. Marion Martin, and Barnett Gibbs ran unsuccessfully for governor. Not until 1898 was another former lieutenant governor elected governor. Joseph D. Sayers has the unique distinction of having served one term as lieutenant governor (1878) and then twenty years later being elected governor. Nor has long tenure in the lieutenant governor's office aided in a later campaign for governor. Three of the four lieutenant governors who have been elected governor without first having succeeded to the office by a vacancy served only one term as lieutenant governor; the exception was Preston Smith, who served three terms as lieutenant governor. On the other hand, several who were elected to two or more terms as lieutenant governor failed miserably in a subsequent race for governor. Seven lieutenant governors have inherited the governor's office without being elected to it. Three governors resigned to serve in the United States Congress (Peter H. Bell, Richard Coke, and W. Lee O'Daniel, one governor resigned at the time of secession (Houston), one governor vacated his office and fled from the country (Pendleton Murrah), one governor was impeached and removed from office (James E. Ferguson), and one governor died in office (Beauford Jester). Of the seven lieutenant governors who succeeded to the governor's office, three later ran for the office and were elected to additional terms (W. P. Hobby, Coke Stevenson, and R. Allan Shivers), two ran and were defeated (James P. Henderson and Edward Clark), and two did not run again (R. B. Hubbard and Fletcher S. Stockdale, who only served technically as governor before being removed by United States authorities). In 1995 it remained true that only a small percentage of lieutenant governors who sought the governorship without having acceded to it were successful. See also GOVERNMENT, GOVERNOR.

J. William Davis, There Shall Also Be a Lieutenant Governor (Institute of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, 1967). Dick Smith, A Layman's Guide to the Texas State Administrative Agencies (Austin: Bureau of Municipal Research, University of Texas, 1945).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

J. William Davis, “Lieutenant Governor,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 21, 2021