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Texas lieutenant governor selected by secret ballot

With the blessing of the Texas Supreme Court, state lawmakers on Thursday chose a new lieutenant governor _ perhaps the most powerful post in Texas _ by secret ballot.

A few hours after the court turned aside a legal challenge by news organizations, the Texas Senate picked Bill Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.

Ratliff was sworn in immediately. The 11-year Senate veteran received a standing ovation as he stepped to the podium.

"To my colleagues, there truly is no greater honor than to be selected by your peers for an office as responsible as this one because, after all, you know all of my faults as well as I do having worked together all these years," Ratliff said.

Texas Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm congratulated Ratliff, saying he "is fair and honorable." Ratliff said he would give up chairmanship of the Senate finance committee.

Some lawmakers had vowed to seek a public vote whatever the court decision. However, Senate President Pro Tem Rodney Ellis later said a paper ballot would be used in choosing the replacement for Rick Perry, who became governor last week after George W. Bush resigned to become president.

The lieutenant governor controls the flow of Senate legislation.

Ratliff will assume the duties but not the title of lieutenant governor. He will preside over the Senate and keep a vote as a legislator. A new lieutenant governor will be elected in 2002.

News organizations _ including the Houston Chronicle, Waco Tribune-Herald, and Austin-American Statesman _ had gone to court, seeking a public vote.

State District Judge Lora Livingston ruled Wednesday that the state's second-ranking official is an executive position normally elected by the people and not merely an officer of the Senate.

Her decision was upheld on an appeal in the 3rd District Court of Appeals. The senators appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which said the courts had no jurisdiction in the matter.