Yes, the GOP Wave Turned Out to Be a Tsunami

Rick Perry won his third full term as governor of Texas Tuesday, defeating former Houston Mayor Bill White by a convincing margin and positioning himself for a role on the national stage.

And he led a Republican army that swept the statewide offices for the fourth election in a row, took out three Democratic congressmen and was on its way to a nearly two-thirds majority in the Texas House, a mark Republicans haven't seen since the days following the Civil War.

It was Perry's sixth statewide win — an uninterrupted run that began in 1990 when he left his spot in the Texas House for a long-shot bid at agriculture commissioner. And it's as much a beginning as an ending: He's re-elected now and in place, if he wants to be, for four more years. But he's also starting a national book tour and has been promising for some time to lead a national revolt by the states against what he believes is an overreaching, bloated and financially irresponsible federal government.

In the process, Perry dispelled doubts about his political abilities, defeating popular and well-financed candidates both in the primaries, when he knocked off popular U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and then in this general election, dispatching the popular former mayor of the state's largest city. In White, Democrats had their best combination of candidate and money in a governor's race in years, and they barely topped 40 percent.

When Texas first lady Anita Perry campaigned for her husband, she often quoted Winston Churchill: “I like a man who grins when he fights.” Perry was grinning Tuesday as he cruised to victory.

 

As he accepted the results before a cheering crowd at the Exotic Game Ranch in Buda, Perry said a “wave of dissatisfaction” two years in the making had just crested. “Conservatives are winning offices, and champions of big government are cleaning out their desks right now,” he said.

Amid the excitement, Perry didn’t miss the opportunity to plug his new book, Fed Up!, which will be released Nov. 15 but was available for purchase at the Republican victory celebration.  “Our citizens are tired of big government killing jobs with their do-gooder policies,” he said. “In short, the people are fed up!”

White, conceding in Houston, offered his congratulations to Perry and urged Texans to support all elected officials. “To those who have supported me, please recognize that Gov. Perry is not your enemy,” White said. “He is just a fellow Texan.”

The results in the top race presaged the carnage below. Republicans swept the statewide offices in both the executive and judicial branches, held their own in legislative seats at the state and federal levels, and threatened to cut into Democratic numbers in Congress.

But the big news was in the Texas House.

TEXAS HOUSE

It can only be described as a bloodbath. Nearly two dozen Democratic incumbents — 21, to be exact — lost their seats to Republican challengers on Tuesday, dashing the party’s hope that it would take control of the House for the first time in nearly a decade. Freshman incumbents — many of whom Republicans believe rode into office on President Barack Obama’s coattails — lost handily. WD-40s — white Democrats over 40 representing traditionally Republican districts — overwhelmingly fell to their well-financed opponents. Democrats no one thought were at risk fell victim to surprise upsets. Even Republican incumbents beaten up by election-year scandals held fast to their seats. 

What started the night as a 77-73 Republican advantage ended the night, with two seats undecided, at 99-51. The sweep means Republicans will have a larger-than-expected advantage during next year's redistricting, where they’ll determine what the state’s election maps will look like for the next decade. And while it's an undeniably big night for the GOP, it raised concerns for House Speaker Joe Straus, who had signed pledges from many Democrats who lost Tuesday night. He answered that uncertainly before all of the results were in, saying he has pledges of support from 122 returning and incoming members of the House. And he said in an interview that he's got enough support in the Republican caucus to win there, too. That's an answer to Republicans who want a GOP speaker whose support comes primarily from Republicans. Straus got the top job in 2009 with more Democrats than Republicans on his side. Many of those Democrats fell on Tuesday, to wit:

 

The WD-40s

Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, lost to Republican Erwin Cain, a businessman and attorney who raised more money than any other challenger in a Texas House race. Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, fell to Jim Landtroop, a Plainview business owner, in the Panhandle district. Landtroop, who lost to Heflin in 2006 by less than 1 percent, came into this election with a cash advantage.

New Boston Rep. Stephen Frost, considered a WD-40 though he’s only 38, fell to Republican George Lavender, who raised large amounts of cash in the final few weeks of the race. And Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, lost to Republican James White, a Hillister educator.

Incumbent Kirk England, D-Grand Prairie, fell to Republican Rodney Anderson, a title insurance manager. Rep. Allen Vaught, a military veteran and Democrat from Dallas, lost to Republican Kenneth Sheets.

Freshman fight

Freshman Democrats fell hard. First-term Dallas Rep. Robert Miklos fell to Republican businesswoman Cindy Burkett. Rep. Carol Kent, D-Dallas, lost to Republican Stefani Carter. Former Republican Rep. Bill Zedler won his seat back from freshman Democrat Chris Turner of Burleson. And Democratic Rep. Joe Moody lost to Republican businessman Dee Margo in El Paso — Margo’s third attempt to win a seat in the Texas Legislature and his second run against Moody. Kristi Thibaut, another freshman Democrat who was swept into office in 2008, lost in a race that probably gave some Houston voters déjà vu: Thibaut battled against former Republican Rep. Jim Murphy, whom she defeated two years ago and who defeated her two years before that.

Surprise, Surprise

Some upsets appeared to come out of left field. Waco Rep. Jim Dunnam, leader of the House Democrats, fell in a stunning defeat to Republican Marva Beck of Centerville. The money was lined up for that and got plenty of attention, but even many Republican thought the race was out of reach. Incumbent Rep. Paula Pierson, D-Arlington, fell to Republican challenger Barbara Nash, an Arlington real estate investor. Houston Democrat Ellen Cohen succumbed to a challenge from Republican attorney Sarah Davis. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, fell to Republican John Garza by a narrow margin. And Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, lost to Republican Raul Torres. Meanwhile, Rep. Pete Gallego, of Alpine, was narrowly leading Republican challenger Thomas Kincaid early Wednesday morning in a race few expected to be so close.

Hangers-on

Despite some rough headlines in the lead-up to the election, scandal-weary Republicans hung on. Embattled Republican state Rep. Joe Driver defeated Democrat Jamie Dorris in his Garland district, despite admitting he double-billed taxpayers for travel expenses. Republican Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, who failed to report that she was driving a luxury car owned by a state transportation contractor that employs her husband, defeated Democrat Loretta Haldenwang. And Waco Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson defeated former Democratic Rep. John Mabry, despite revelations he repeatedly failed to pay his federal taxes.

Other highlights

Democratic Rep. Hubert Vo, of Houston, was one of the few incumbent Democrats to hang onto his seat. He defeated Republican Jack O’Connor.

Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac, of Houston, won another term in the Texas House despite the efforts of Democratic challenger Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, a teacher and daughter of former state Rep. Ken Yarbrough.

Dallas Republican Will Hartnett hung on to his seat against Democrat John Wellik, a health care executive.

Freshman Republican Rep. Ken Legler of Pasadena won a second term, beating out Democratic attorney Rick Molina.

Republican Tim Kleinschmidt of Lexington beat back a challenge from Democrat Pati Jacobs, a Bastrop rancher.

In Central Texas, three-term Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs; Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin; and freshman Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock, were all part of the massive Republican rout. In West Austin, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, held onto her seat with a 15-vote victory over Republican rival Dan Neil. Rose conceded early in the evening after being defeated by Republican Jason Issac, ending a bitter air-wave war the two had been waging for weeks.

Robstown Democratic state Rep. Abel Herrero, who was first elected in 2004, won’t return for a fourth term in the state House. Republican Connie Scott, a Corpus Christi businesswoman and tort reform lobbyist, defeated the incumbent legislator.

State Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Tourielles, a Democrat from Alice, lost to Republican Jose Aliseda, a rancher and former county judge from Bee County, in her bid for a fourth term in the Legislature.

THE STATEWIDES

They didn’t have to say it after a windfall of smashing GOP wins Tuesday night, but each of the winning statewide Republican candidates said it anyway. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst put it this way: “What a great night it is to be a Texas Republican!”

Knowing that elsewhere in the state, the Republican majority in the Legislature was growing, Dewhurst offered a glimpse of what the overwhelming victories meant for the 2011 legislative session. He promised the assembled Republican supporters that the Legislature will pass a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to constitutionally require a balanced budget. They will manage the state’s budget shortfall without raising taxes, he said. And they will “put the brakes on Obamacare.”

The only new face in the Republican statewide line-up is Railroad Commissioner-elect David Porter. He joined a united front of statewide candidates who clearly have their sights set on Washington, D.C.

“Today begins the countdown to Nov. 6, 2012,” said Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, noting that would be “the day we send a moving van to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The statewide candidates made it clear that they will be looking to keep as much of President Barack Obama’s agenda out of Texas as they possibly can, particularly when it comes to health care. Attorney General Greg Abbott, currently leading a lawsuit over federal health care reform, told the crowd, “We’ve only begun the fight.” Fighting at his side is pistol-packing Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who captured the GOP mood when he took the stage to Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.”

CONGRESS

Texas made a healthy contribution to the bumper crop of new Republican U.S. House members across the country. Bill Flores of Bryan, Francisco “Quico” Canseco of San Antonio and Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi will soon be the state’s newest members of Congress.

The GOP picked off two longtime incumbents: Chet Edwards, who has served Congressional District 17 since 1990 and — in an upset —Solomon Ortiz, who has represented his South Texas district since 1983. They also reclaimed CD-23 from U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who’s held the San Antonio-based district since he defeated Republican Henry Bonilla in 2006.

Of the three, Edwards lost by the biggest margin. Unofficial totals showed Flores with a 25-point lead over the Waco Democrat, who failed to win even McLennan County, his home. Ortiz, whose Corpus Christi-anchored district has been a safely Democratic seat, lost by a mere 799 votes out of more than 106,000 cast. All of those Republicans ran on national issues, hammering their opponents on their ties to national Democratic leadership and playing on voters’ concerns about healthcare, the budget deficit, and unemployment.

THE COURTS

There weren't any surprises in the races for the highest courts: All Republican incumbents handily beat their Democratic challengers. On the Texas Supreme Court, Paul Green defeated Democrat state District Judge Bill Moody of El Paso. Recent appointees Debra Lehrmann and Eva Guzman won their first general election bids against Houston appellate judge Jim Sharp and Tyler lawyer Blake Bailey.

Of the three Court of Criminal Appeals judges facing re-election this year, only one, Michael Keasler, had a Democratic opponent. (Judges Lawrence Meyers and Cheryl Johnson both had Libertarian opponents.) With incomplete totals, he was leading Austin criminal defense attorney Keith Hampton by a 25-point margin.

STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Republicans had a good night on the State Board of Education, but the board may nonetheless edge toward more moderation next year. Six of the seven Republican candidates won outright. In the El Paso area, Republican Carlos Garza was leading a Democratic incumbent, Rene Nuñez, by less than 3 percentage points with just a few precincts left to be counted.

The 15-member board generated national controversy earlier this year when it tinkered with the state's textbooks. But some of its staunchest conservatives, Cynthia Dunbar and Don McLeroy, were not on Tuesday's ballot.

In one of the most-watched races, in the Austin area, Republican Marsha Farney defeated her Democratic challenger, Judy Jennings, by a double-digit margin. In a second closely watched race in the San Antonio area, Republican incumbent Ken Mercer soundly defeated Democratic challenger Rebecca Bell-Metereau.

LOCAL RACES

Incumbent District Attorney Craig Watkins, a Democrat, narrowly defeated challenger Danny Clancy, a Republican defense lawyer. Watkins, acclaimed for his work on exonerating the wrongfully convicted, has drawn criticism in the last year for his handling of an investigation into county constables.

Meanwhile, Democrat Clay Jenkins defeated Republican Wade Emmert in the race for Dallas County judge. And Dallas County District 4 Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, a Republican, lost his fight for a fifth term against former Dallas City Council member Elba Garcia, who won by 5 percentage points. Despite the Republican crush across most of the state, Democrats will have a majority on the Dallas County court for the first time in roughly 30 years.

In the Bexar County DA’s race, incumbent Susan Reed, a Republican, defeated challenger Nicholas LaHood, an attorney whose campaign stumbled over news he was arrested for selling ecstasy in 1994. Meanwhile, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, handily defeated Democrat Gordon Quan.

In Nueces County, Republican District Attorney Anna Jimenez lost to Democrat Mark Skurka. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Jimenez, then a prosecutor in the DA’s child victims unit, to be district attorney in March after DA Carlos Valdez left. Skurka, who spent 10 years as chief prosecutor and another 10 years as first assistant district attorney, is vying for the final two years of Valdez’ unexpired term.

LOCAL PROPOSITIONS

The booze lobby in Dallas scored a huge victory with the passage of a pair of propositions that would amend the city's strange liquor restrictions. One will allow stores across Dallas to sell beer and wine for consumption off premises — in other words, it will free more grocery stores to sell alcohol. The second proposition will allow restaurants in certain areas to serve alcohol without being classified legally as clubs, as is now the case.

Houstonians approved a ban on red-light cameras. Austinites approved a $90 million bond to improve roads and schools. And in the most important proposition that was not actually on the Texas ballot, check the California results for the latest on Proposition 23. Two Texas oil companies — Valero and Tesoro — incurred the ire of environmentalists by helping to fund the proposition, which would have suspended California's landmark global-warming legislation. If it is defeated, the Golden State's greens will rest easier.

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