Vol 29, Issue 43 Print Issue

After the Election, Our Status Remains Quo

Travis County Democratic Party volunteer Dan Isaac Yahiel calls potential voters from the local party headquarters on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012 in Austin, Texas.
Travis County Democratic Party volunteer Dan Isaac Yahiel calls potential voters from the local party headquarters on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012 in Austin, Texas.

The big change from the 2012 general election will be right up there on the voter board in the Texas House, which will have 43 names on it that weren’t there last time.

The 2010 election — that was a big deal, remember? — put 35 new names on the board. Eleven of them aren’t coming back for the ordinary reasons of quitting, climbing and failing. That leaves 24 from that class.

That’s 67 freshmen and sophomores on the House side. The Senate has, or will have, six new members.

Most of the new senators have served in the House, so they’re already broken in. The one fresh face, so far, is that of Dr. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels.

The late Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, won another term, setting up a yet to be called special election that will likely feature former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and current state Rep. Carol Alvarado. It’s a strongly Democratic district.

The Senate came into the election with 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats and will come out, after the Gallegos replacement race is over, with that same configuration. The House went in 102-48 and came out 95-55, confirming Republican warnings that even with Democrats shut out of redistricting, they couldn’t draw 102 safe districts.

Texas is sending eight new people to Congress, four in open seats, two replacing retiring members and two challengers who won. That group includes five Democrats and three Republicans.

That's a lot of new people, but the partisan lines didn't move much.

Wendy Davis’ reelection left a list of wounded, starting with Mark Shelton, the Republican who forfeited a safe House seat to challenge the one-term Democrat. That list includes Bryan Eppstein, the consultant who led the effort, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the conservative PAC that put the race at the top of the list before redistricting maps were even drawn. Lots of head-scratching, finger-pointing and woulda-shoulda-coulda stuff going on there, but Davis was the superior candidate and was the only one in the race whose supporters weren’t trying to frag each other for the last four or five months.

If the Republicans do any alterations on the political map, that district — SD-10 — is a leading contender for change, depending on what the courts finally say about the maps the Legislature drew.

Remember those? The state is using maps drawn by federal judges while another set of federal judges decides whether the state’s own maps are legal. So far, that’s been a bumpy road, and continued court action remains ahead.

An interesting sidebar: The senators serve staggered four-year terms and all run at the same time only in redistricting years. When the voting is over, they usually draw straws to decide who is serving a two-year term and who got a four-year term. Now there’s some talk of skipping the straws until after the federal courts decide what’s what with the maps. If the courts finally approve the Senate’s own version of those maps, there could be 31 senators on the ballot again in 2014. (Two speculations for another time: Which senators got elected in this presidential year who might face perilously different electorates in a gubernatorial year? And who might be willing to run for statewide office in 2014 only if they’re not up for reelection and wouldn’t have to give up their spot to run?)

If you doubted the effectiveness of redistricting in protecting incumbents, consider this. There are 246 offices at the top of the ballot, including the statewide executive and judicial races, the congressional delegation and the state Legislature. Only 16 of the incumbents who ran for reelection got beat this year. November’s victims: U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio, and Republican state Reps. John Garza of San Antonio, Dee Margo of El Paso, and Connie Scott of Corpus Christi.

The election completed a two-cycle makeover of the Texas Railroad Commission, with both Barry Smitherman and Christi Craddick winning terms there and joining David Porter, who got on in 2010. Keeping score there? Midland 2, Houston 1.

Statewide Republicans did a little better in 2012 than in 2008, and not as well as they did in 2010. At the top, Mitt Romney got 57.2 percent; John McCain got 55.5 four years earlier. Barack Obama got 41.4 percent this time and 43.7 percent four years ago. In 2010, the high mark in a statewide race with both a Republican and a Democrat saw Attorney General Greg Abbott beating Barbara Ann Radnofsky 64.1 percent to 33.7 percent.

The end of the election was the starting gun for the legislative session and with it, the race for speaker of the House. Joe Straus seems confident enough about getting reelected, but a group of conservatives in his own party are trying to stir support for Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, or for someone other than the incumbent. Hughes is circulating a letter that would give members with more seniority a greater hand in choosing their own committee assignments, allow bills that are stuck in committee to come to the floor if “broad majorities” are in favor, and speeding up the committee assignments, which some members complain take too long. And the day after the election, his allies put out a list of 100 conservative activists and leaders who endorse Hughes for speaker.

Saddle up. Members can start filing bills on Monday.