Since his defeat last November, Texas Gov. Bill Clements has named more than 100 new people to powerful state boards and commissions, many of the appointees hostile to the administration of his successor.
As a result, Democratic Gov.-elect Mark White is threatening the unprecedented action of asking the Senate to send all the nominations back for his review after he takes office next Tuesday.
White and Clements' bitter and stormy relationship dates to 1978, when Clements was elected governor and White became attorney general.
"He said he was going to try to undermine my administration, and I think he's taking every step possible to do that," White said. "We cannot have that, and I don't think the Senate wants that."
Clements has been lobbying the overwhelmingly Democratic Senate this week to uphold his right to make appointments until his term expires. He predicted this week that he would have enough votes to prevent the appointments from being sent back to White.
But Democrats believe that if White asks for the opportunity to review the appointments, he will prevail. He would need a majority of the 31-member Senate.
The fight has highlighted an uneasy transition from Clements to White, the first Republican-to-Democratic change in governors here in more than 100 years. And even if White wins the battle, it could damage his working relationship with many conservative Democratic state senators who support Clements' position on the appointments.
There is nothing unique about lame-duck governors making last-minute appointments in order to reward political allies and leave a mark on state government for years after their departure. In California, outgoing Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., a Democrat, named 52 judges and made a series of other appointments before he was succeeded 10 days ago by Republican George Deukmejian.
Other Texas governors have gotten into trouble for specific lame-duck appointments, especially those involving the important governing boards of the major state universities. But those earlier fights were based principally on legal arguments.
In contrast, the effort here to embarrass Clements is partisan. Democratic senators say Clements should refrain from making these appointments because the voters tossed him out of office.
"No one's saying he's violated the law," said Democratic state Sen. Oscar Mauzy of Dallas. "He's violated common sense and good judgment. He's thumbing his nose at the people of the state of Texas."
White had remained silent on the battle until this week, but for the past few days he has been meeting with senators in an effort to decide what to do.
Several leaders of the fight said today they expected White to submit a request to have the appointments returned next Wednesday, but White's press secretary, Ann Arnold, said that was only one option still being considered.
An alternative would be to attempt to block only certain appointments in the Senate. That would require only 11 votes in the Senate, rather than the 16 needed to send them all back to White.
White and other Democrats are most angry about only a few of the appointments Clements has made. Among them are the appointments of former governor John B. Connally to the University of Texas board of regents and of former Democratic House speaker Billy Clayton, who did everything but endorse Clements last fall, to the Texas A&M University board of regents. Connally has been lobbying senators in recent days to keep his position on the UT board.