Straus Loses Lieutenants, and Senate Sees a Shift

Election Day was costly for House Speaker Joe Straus.

Three of his lieutenants were defeated. Another was forced into a Republican runoff on July 31.

But it wasn't without some wins, and it certainly could have been worse: Two of the seven incumbents swept out by voters were with Straus' opponents in the last speaker's race, as was one of the three incumbents forced into runoff elections.

Before the elections, 30 of the 150 House members decided not to seek re-election, either saying that they wanted to run for another office or that they were done with politics for now. The primary election removed seven more incumbents, and three others are on their way to runoff elections — often a dismal portent for an incumbent.

In Texas Senate races, it was a night for the conservatives. Four Republican senators are leaving of their own accord, and all four could be replaced by candidates more conservative than the incumbents. Replace Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, with Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, with Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Chris Harris, R-Arlington, with Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; and Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, with Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.

 

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has nine more weeks of battle ahead, after finishing first in a tight three-way primary with less than 36 percent of the vote. He'll be in a runoff with Donna Campbell, a favorite of movement and Tea Party conservatives who moved into the district just for this race and who overtook former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, who was recruited and financed by Wentworth's foes. If Campbell overtakes him, the Senate would move another notch to the right.

She came out swinging after the results were in: "I want to congratulate Elizabeth Ames Jones for her public service and for running a passionate race," Campbell said in a news release. "There were many things we disagreed on, but we both agree that Sen. Wentworth has been there too long to be an effective voice for the constituents of District 25. I look forward to a lively and spirited debate with him on the challenges facing Texas."

A sixth seat will be in play in November, when Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, defends her seat against Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, in a district that has voted Republican in most elections.

Those new senators — whether they number four, five or six — could be important right from the start when the Legislature convenes next year. If Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wins his bid for U.S. Senate — no sure thing, because he faces a runoff with Ted Cruz — the Senate would elect a presiding officer from within its ranks to replace him. It's a Republican Senate now and probably will be again, but if Dewhurst moves on, his date of departure is important.

If he leaves at the end of the year, the new Senate — with its new conservatives — would elect his replacement. If he were to leave a month earlier, that vote would be left to the current Senate.

The Senate now waits to see what becomes of Dewhurst.

In the House, a race for presiding officer has become a regular biennial event. But Tuesday didn't make it any easier for Straus. While voters were still making their choices, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, announced he will challenge Straus for the job when lawmakers meet next year.

And then the election lost Straus some of the people he hoped to rely on in such a contest. The ranks of the vanquished include some chairmen: Public Education's Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Licensing & Administrative Procedures' Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Lumberton; and Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, chairwoman of the Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee. Marva Beck, recruited by Republicans two years ago to knock off Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, the leader of the Democrats, was herself turned out by voters. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, elected as a Democrat and then convinced by Straus and others to switch to the GOP, narrowly escaped defeat; he's got a runoff ahead of him. Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the General Investigating & Ethics Committee, is also headed to a runoff.

As with the new cohorts in the Senate, some of the nominees for the House are as conservative as the people they beat — Matt Schaefer, for instance, who defeated Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler — or more conservative than the people they are replacing, like Giovanni Capriglione, who beat Truitt.

Or Eissler's opponent, Steve Toth, who said he was "setting the pace and the tone of the campaign" and got the feeling he was onto something when he saw where his support was coming from: "The conservative political action committees, they never get behind a contender unless there is blood in the water."

Morgan Smith contributed to this report.

 

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