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There has been a changing of the guard at the Texas state Capitol, but leaders of the state’s legal community say they can work with the new governor and acting lieutenant governor. Rick Perry, 50, the state’s lieutenant governor for the past two years, has been busy settling into the governor’s office, left vacant by the resignation of President-elect George W. Bush. Shortly after Perry moved up, the Senate elected one of its own, 64-year-old Bill Ratliff, to replace him. Both are familiar faces at the Capitol. Perry, a farmer and rancher from Paint Creek, served three terms in the House as a Democrat before switching political parties. His first race as a Republican came in 1990, when he ran for agriculture commissioner, defeating Democratic incumbent Jim Hightower. In 1998, Perry defeated another well-known Democrat, former State Comptroller John Sharp, in a close race for lieutenant governor. During his two years as lieutenant governor, Perry supported tax-cut plans proposed by Bush and established a commission to look at ways to improve the state’s higher education system. When he was sworn in on Dec. 21, Perry pledged to continue the bipartisanship that has prevailed in Texas. “In the end, what matters most is not partisan majorities or political affiliation. What matters most is that we do the business the people have sent us here to do. Texas matters most,” he says. Ratliff, also a Republican, has been a consulting engineer for 30 years and owns his own firm in Mount Pleasant. He has been a member of the Senate since 1989, chairing the Education Committee before taking over as head of the budget-writing Finance Committee in 1995. His accomplishments include passing bills to improve the state’s public school system and overseeing the drafting of the last two state budgets. Although Ratliff will assume the duties of the lieutenant governor and will have all the powers bestowed on the office, he won’t officially have the title. He will continue to be the senator for District 1 in Northeast Texas and will vote in the Senate. “Whenever I think it’s appropriate, I’ll vote,” Ratliff says. Ratliff was elected by a one-vote margin after the Senate voted on eight secret ballots. He says he will follow the Senate’s agenda, not his own. “I truly do not believe that I was put in this place to advocate for my agenda. I was put here as the presiding officer … . I’m not going to try to impose my agenda on the body,” he says. Broadus Spivey, president-elect of the State Bar of Texas and a member of Austin’s Spivey and Ainsworth, says that while Perry and Ratliff aren’t lawyers, they recognize lawyers’ needs. “I don’t think either one of them has an anti-lawyer attitude,” he says. Spivey says Ratliff has close ties to the legal profession with two brothers who are lawyers. Shannon Ratliff is a member of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld in Austin, and Jack Ratliff is a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. Perry has selected several lawyers for jobs in his administration. Laredo lawyer Henry Cuellar was apppointed secretary of state, and Geoffrey S. Connor, senior counsel in the energy section of Akin Gump in Austin, was named assistant secretary of state. Victor Alcorta III, formerly with McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore in Houston, has been named Perry’s policy director. Perry also selected Bill Jones, a partner in Cash Jones in Austin, as his general counsel. Jones is a past president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. “We’re particularly thrilled with that appointment,” says Melody Wilkinson, the TYLA president and a partner in the Fort Worth office of Cantey & Hanger. Wilkinson says her organization has confidence in Perry and Ratliff. Mike Ramsey, president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, says TTLA has worked with Perry and Ratliff for many years. “We’ve found them open and easy to deal with,” says Ramsey, a partner in Provost & Umphrey in Beaumont. Ramsey says the TTLA has not always agreed with Perry and Ratliff on the issues — both have supported tort reform proposals in the past — but feels the association has gotten “a fair hearing” from the two leaders. “We’ve been able to get our business done when we need to,” he says. Thomas Bishop, president of the Texas Association of Defense Counsel, also voices optimism that his group will have a good relationship with Perry and Ratliff. “They’re both good people who’ve worked hard for Texans for years,” he says. Bishop, president of Dallas’ Bishop & Hummert, says that Perry and Ratliff have been “good folks for the civil justice arena” but says he doesn’t know of any tort reforms that they might back in the upcoming session. The change in leadership doesn’t appear to concern prosecutors either. Rob Kepple, general counsel for the District and County Attorneys Association of Texas, says Perry had an “excellent staff” as the lieutenant governor and was knowledgeable on the issues. Kepple says he expects the same from Perry and his staff in the governor’s office. Ratliff has always been a friend of prosecutors and kept the door open for discussion of issues, Kepple adds.

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