Texas Republicans won four of the five expensively contested congressional seats on Election Day, grabbing hold of the last cul-de-sac they didn't fully control in the neighborhoods of federal and state government. With the results now in hand, the Texas elephant herd's dominion now includes the White House, both of the state's U.S. Senate seats, the Texas congressional delegation, every statewide elected position in the executive and judicial branches, the state Senate and the state House. Twenty years ago, that landscape was populated mostly by donkeys.
By the numbers, that's one president, two senators and 27 more statewide officials, 21 of 32 congressmen and women, 19 of 31 state senators, and 87 of 150 House members. With the takeover of the congressional delegation, accomplished partly by winning elections and mainly by drawing congressional districts that were hard for the designated parties to lose, Texas Republicans have run the table. And they did it in a year when George W. Bush, the president who started his political rise here ten years ago, increased his margins in Texas and came close to sweeping the state.
Bush won in all but 18 of the state's 254 counties, a list that includes Brooks, Dimmit, Duval, El Paso, Hidalgo, Jefferson, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Kenedy, LaSalle, Maverick, Presidio, Starr, Travis, Webb, Willacy, Zapata, and Zavala. Overall, he got 4.5 million votes in Texas, or 1,691,267 more than John Kerry took in. Democrats, who said two weeks ago they'd measure their success in part by whether they could keep Bush's percentage in the mid-50s, watched quietly as he increased his Texas margin from 59.3 in 2000 to 61.1% this year.
Bush improved his numbers in most of the state's biggest counties. Travis County, where Austin is the county seat, was a notable exception. And Dallas County, which is losing Republican strength every year, gave Bush 50.4 percent of the vote, or a margin of just 9,611 of 684,992 votes cast. Elsewhere, he pulled in huge numbers. The winner was Ochiltree County, which gave him 92%. Bush broke 80 percent in 50 Texas counties, and 104 more gave him at least 70 percent.
Almost a million more Texans voted for president this year than four years ago. This year's total was 7,392,468. About 400,000 of them cut out before they got to the next statewide race, in the third spot on the ballot, but the red tide that swamped Kerry at the top flowed down the ballot. Republicans won all but one of the congressional seats they'd designed for Republicans. And the legislative maps they drew two years earlier held up. Not one senator lost or even had a close contest. And the changes in the House only produced five partisan flips. Three Republican incumbents lost, and two Democrats lost, netting a gain of one seat for the Democrats.
The only boasts left for the Democrats are their apparent defeat — it's in recount purgatory — of House Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, their first gain in partisan numbers in the House in three decades (made possible by their steady losses to Republicans over the years), and the one congressional seat where they held back the Republican tide, ironically in the congressional district that includes a famous country retreat near Crawford.
As the returns gelled, House Speaker Tom Craddick announced he is holding pledge cards from 119 House members, including 32 Democrats (that's one more than half of the Democratic contingent). Several Democrats said they were never asked to pledge, but Craddick aides say everyone was invited to a party at the end of the last session, and most of the pledges were collected then. Whatever the case, Craddick's got plenty of votes to sit in the high chair for a second session.
If you are looking to credit someone for adding to the Republican majority in the U.S. House, don't look to players in this month's elections or even to the coattails of George W. Bush, who increased his margin in Texas while winning a second term in Washington, D.C.
Instead, look back a year to the closed-door meetings at the Texas Capitol, where Republicans redrew the state's political map. Led by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, those Republicans produced a map that convinced one Democrat to change parties, another to abort his reelection plans, and four to lose in the general election. Two more lost in their primaries and will be replaced by freshmen Democrats. Now check out the national assessments of what happened in Congress. Republicans increased their advantage by up to four seats (three for certain, with late counts possibly adding another). Without the remap of Texas, they'd have done well to stay even, and probably would have shaved their majority by two. National Republicans owe their increase in congressional strength to DeLay and the legislators who rearranged the map last year.
Now that the election is over, 31 of the state's 32 congressional districts are in the hands of the parties for which they were drawn, and Republicans have a 21-11 advantage, compared to the 15-17 disadvantage they held before they redrew the maps. Only U.S Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, defied the numbers and won election in a district designed for the other side. In every other case, Democrats hold the seats drawn for Democrats and Republicans hold the seats drawn for Republicans.
The polling shared with us in most of the districts turned out to be far too optimistic in favor of the Democrats. Most of the pollsters were right about the final outcomes, but thought the margins would be much slimmer. U.S. Reps. Martin Frost of Dallas, Nick Lampson of Beaumont, Max Sandlin of Marshall, and Charlie Stenholm of Abilene each lost. Frost and Stenholm lost to fellow members of Congress: Pete Sessions of Dallas beat Frost 54-44, or 20,847 votes, while Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock stomped Stenholm 58-40, or 42,939 votes. Lampson and Sandlin both lost to state district judges who hung up their robes for a chance to go to Washington. Houston Republican Ted Poe beat Lampson 55-43, or by 31,402 votes. Louie Gohmert of Tyler beat Sandlin easily, 61-38, or 60,611 votes.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall was a Democrat for his statehouse and congressional career, until last year, when he decided to take off his blue jersey and pull on a red one. That brought the Texas delegation to a 16-16 tie, and Hall won his first general election as a Republican this month. U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, decided late last year that the new map was too hostile for a reelection bid and will go home after this term. He has said he'd like to remain in public service, possibly in a statewide race, but hasn't announced exactly what he plans to do.
Earlier in the year, U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, lost his primary to Al Green, also D and also Houston, who went on to win the general election. Bell's district was redrawn to give a minority a higher chance of winning, and Green, who is Black, won 66-31 in March. U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, lost a bitter Democratic primary to his old statehouse colleague Henry Cuellar. A recount in that race went to the courts and after Cuellar prevailed there, he won the general election.
Everybody but Edwards is protected in future general elections until populations change or the lines move. Wohlgemuth, the only general election congressional candidate who had a direct hand — and vote — in the congressional remapping that resulted in the new Republican districts, was the only one to lose. Edwards won big in McLennan County — 64%— but also won (by 269 votes) in Brazos County, which is ordinarily Republican turf. The back-of-the-envelope campaign plan for both candidates was to win the home base — Wohlgemuth won in Johnson County with 60% — and then to win in Brazos. The Republicans figured that was their game, since the home of Texas A&M University is a reliably conservative spot. Edwards came out of early voting with a 3,291 deficit, but turned that around on Election Day and won with a 9,089 margin. The shares at the end were 51.2% for the Democrat, and 47.5% for the Republican (Libertarian Clyde Garland got the remainder), a result that probably puts Edwards at the top of the GOP's 2006 target list.
Election Day Was Only the Start
Democrats pulled a hat trick on Election Day, sneaking Democrat Hubert Vo of Houston past House Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin by a scant 52 votes. That's a huge victory, especially if it sticks. But it's not over. Harris County election officials counted more ballots and the margin shrunk to 38 votes. By mid-week, they were saying there were 192 mailed in ballots still to count, along with 188 provisional ballots cast by voters who didn't have voter IDs with them when they showed up at the polling place.
The answering machine message at Heflin's campaign the day after the election included this: "Votes are still being counted and the race has not officially been declared." At the Vo campaign, aides said they weren't sure just how the vote spread had narrowed overnight, and were questioning whether the mailed ballots had already been counted to produce that change, or were still to be counted. It's a mess, in other words, and will take a couple of days to settle. County officials are counting mail-in ballots and provisional ballots from that and other districts in Harris County, and the tabulations could go into the weekend.
Both sides are lawyered up. Vo's lead attorney is Larry Viselka, a former county chairman of the Democrats. The Republicans have hired Andy Taylor, who you'll remember from earlier stints with the attorney general's office, as a state-paid contract lawyer on redistricting, and as the defense counsel for the Texas Association of Business in that group's battle with prosecutors over campaign finance in the 2002 elections. Those lawyers are sharpening their pencils and knives for a potential election contest in the House when the legislative session begins.
What's at stake is more than just a House race. Heflin, elected to the House in 1982, is a key part of management and the lower chamber's lead player on the state budget. The Democrats who targeted him for defeat in the general election already nailed House Ways & Means Chairman Ron Wilson, a Houston Democrat, in the March primaries. That means Speaker Tom Craddick and his team could be headed for a session highlighted by budget problems from health and human services to public education, without experienced lieutenants to manage the budget, in Heflin's case, or a tax and gambling and revenue package, in Wilson's. From their standpoint, it's hard enough to lose just one of the lead players on state finance. Losing both would give the advantage to the Senate — where Democrats have marginally more influence.
By the Skin of Their Teeth
Several other races ended with close margins that could change as election officials around the state settle disputes and count ballots that for one reason or another weren't included in the first totals after the elections. (Texas Secretary of State Geoff Connor has a continually updated results list on the Internet, at www.sos.state.tx.us.)
• Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, ended up with a win after counting machines malfunctioned and left the results uncertain for two days. Final score: Farabee, 53%, or 25,922 votes; Republican Shirley Craft, 47%, or 22,898 votes.
• Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, beat Democrat Kelly White by 171 votes. Across town, Democrat Mark Strama was beating Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, by 556 votes. Strama got 48.6% of the final vote, denied a majority by the presence of Libertarian Greg Knowles, who got 3.7%. That begs a question that is bothering several Republicans we know: Would Baxter have won with a Libertarian in his race? Strama lost the Election Day vote to Stick but made it up with a 1,351-vote win in early voting.
• Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, beat Kirby Hollingsworth, R-Mount Vernon, by 313 votes.
• Democrat David McQuade Leibowitz of San Antonio beat Rep. Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, by 527 votes, a margin some Republicans thought could be overcome with military mail-in ballots.
Down the Ballot, Where Changes were Slight
The HD-1 spot left by the retirement of Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, will remain in Democratic hands. Stephen Frost of Atlanta beat Pete Snow of Texarkana, 53-47 in the contest that gets the prize for best candidate names. Both parties had this one high on their lists.
• Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, had an easier time with Democrat Bob Glaze this year, beating the former state representative in all four counties in that district. Hughes unseated Glaze two years ago. Glaze was added to the ballot late this year, after the Democrat who had been there told party officials he had moved and become ineligible. Hughes spent over $200,000 in the ensuing contest, and might have got away with a lower budget. He won with 62 percent of the votes.
• Rep. Wayne Christian's HD-9 will remain in Republican hands. Former Nacogdoches Mayor Roy Blake Jr., whose dad was a state senator, beat Democrat Robin Moore 57-43.
• Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, was one of several WD-40s — White Democrats Over 40 years old — who got to see the Republicans up close this year. He won, but with a narrower margin than some expected, beating Mike Alberts with 53 percent of the votes.
• Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, is another. He beat former Rep. Billy Clemons by 1,017 votes out of 48,873 cast after an expensive campaign that saw Clemons trying to attack him as a full-blooded liberal. Together, the two came close to spending a half-million dollars.
• Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, started the contest by starting to switch parties, changing his mind, saying he wouldn't seek reelection, and then getting back in as a Democrat as if none of that other stuff ever happened. With all that, he got 54% against Republican Jean Killgore and will be back.
• Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, was the only WD-40 who didn't survive the election. Republican John Otto of Dayton will be the new state rep for HD-18; he got 55% of the votes.
• Rep. Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, will be back after winning 55% of the votes against Democrat Rex Peveto.
• Democrat Abel Herrero, who unseated Rep. Jaime Capelo, D-Corpus Christi, in the March primaries, held off Republican Terry Arnold in a race that looked close but opened up. He got 55%.
• Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice, was in the same boat but her race stayed tight. She beat incumbent Rep. Gabi Canales in the primaries. Republican Eric Opiela, who got fundraising help from several statewide officials including Gov. Rick Perry, pulled 49 percent of the vote against Toureilles in what's supposed to be a safe Democratic district.
• The final numbers aren't all in, but the race to be the $7,200-a-year state representative from the counties just south of the capitol will probably turn out to be the year's most expensive; it was at $1.1 million at last check. Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, ended up beating Republican Alan Askew by about 9 percentage points.
• Democrats were hoping a strong Waco showing by U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards would produce a win for freshman Rep. John Mabry, a Democrat who unexpectedly won in that Republican district two years ago. Edwards did his bit, but Republican Charles "Doc" Anderson pulled in 53% of the votes.
• Rep. Scott Campbell, R-San Angelo, survived two sets of nasty headlines on his way to winning 57% in his contest with Democrat Jeri Slone. He faces public intoxication charges after an incident where he said he called police to drive him home; he told the local paper he wasn't drunk but couldn't drive. And he was embarrassed by news reports that he'd sought an illegitimate massage in a legitimate massage parlor. The charges were dismissed, but the stories still made local news.
• Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, survived a well-financed Democratic campaign that ended with his daughter attacking him publicly and urging voters to support Katy Hubener. They gave 53% to Allen, enough to send him back to Austin but not enough to scare off future opponents.
• Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, survived Democrat Jim Dougherty's challenge. She got 54%.
• And Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, pulled another hat trick, winning 57% of the votes in a district the Republicans have had on their target list for the last two election cycles.
A Rose By Any Other Surname
Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carrillo easily won the general election in spite of the conventional wisdom that Republicans with Hispanic surnames suffer in those contests. He got 55% of the votes. Democrat Bob Scarborough got 41%. Libertarian Anthony Garcia got 3.6%.
At first glance, it appears Carrillo didn't get the votes other Republicans got against similarly ill-financed Democrats in statewide races. But his opponent didn't outperform other Democrats. Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister pulled 59% against Democrat David Van Os, who got 41% in a race with just two candidates. And Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Michael Keasler got 58% against Democrat J.R. Molina, who got 42%.
Carrillo didn't pull those percentages. But Scarborough's percentage is in the same ballpark with the other Democrats. Carrillo's numbers were lower because of the Libertarian votes, which went to Garcia. And the Hispanic surnames in that three-way contest, if you add the Republican's numbers to the Libertarian's, came out about the same as Anglo Republicans in two-way contests.
Flotsam & Jetsam
No state senators were harmed in the making of this year's elections and there were incumbents in every race. A quick rundown of races where incumbents had major party opponents: Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, beat Andrew Hill 59%-41%; Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, beat Republican Jim Valdez 57%-40%, with Libertarian Raymundo Aleman collecting the crumbs; Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, beat Paul Gibbs 69%-31%; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, beat Elaine King Miller 79%-21%. Not only will the Senate's Republican and Democratic numbers be the same, the senators will be the same ones you saw in the special session on public school finance earlier this year.
• According to the number-crunchers at the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 7,382 state House and Senate members in the 50 states, including the 181 here. And if you want to see how far down the ballot this red-blue business goes, they've got the answer. Of the nation's 5,411 total House members, 2,709 are Democrats, 2,686 are Republicans, and 15 are independents. Another three seats are still in the air after the elections as this is being written.
The R&D split, in percentage terms, is 50.1 percent Democrats and 49.6 percent Republicans. State Senate numbers are similar. There are 1,971 of them, including 966 Republicans, 949 Democrats, 3 independents and four contests undecided. That's 49.0 percent Republican and 48.1 percent Democratic. Combine it all: 49.55 percent of America's state legislators are Democrats and 49.47 percent are Republicans. The Democrats hold the overall lead, by a margin of six lawmakers. Before Election Night, the Republicans had a 66-member lead nationwide, according to NCSL.
•DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: Due mainly to a bit of really bad writing, we left the misimpression last week that money spent on consultants by Texans for Insurance Reform, a lawyer-funded political action committee, had been spent by the House Democratic Campaign Committee. Attach this bit from last week's edition to TIR, with our most humble apologies: "Message Audience & Presentation was paid $45,489 to help Abel Herrero of Robstown, Yvonne Gonzales Toureilles of Alice, and Juan Escobar of Kingsville. Opinion Analysts, a polling firm, was paid $35,631 to help Mark Strama of Austin, Herrero, Peveto, White, and Jim Dunnam of Waco. Another $226,037 went to Rindy Miller Media for radio and TV work for Dunnam and for Mabry." As for us: Sorry, sorry, sorry.
• State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, lost her challenge to U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco — the only challenger who didn't knock off the targeted Democratic incumbent after congressional redistricting. That wasn't unexpected: President George W. Bush, who'd planned to include her at an election eve event in the district (he lives in it and came in to vote), canceled that appearance. And there was another last-minute omen, in the announcement that her Election Night party would be held at a Waco restaurant: Slo-Pokes Barbecue.
Political People and Their Moves
Wallace Jefferson has already officially been sworn in as chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, but his ceremonial investiture will be held on Veterans Day in the House chamber of the Capitol. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will administer the oath to Jefferson, and that'll be preceded by what they're calling a "swearing out" of retired Chief Justice Tom Phillips. We've been sworn out of places before, but that can't be what they're talking about. Still to come: The court has two empty seats — one because of Phillips' resignation and one because of Justice Michael Schneider's appointment to the federal bench. Both will be filled by gubernatorial appointees...
Lobbyist Joey Bennett is leaving Austin-based Public Strategies Inc. to hang out his own shingle before the session begins...
Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley is off the hook for the moment. She withdrew a letter that teacher groups said would weaken limits on class sizes, and they withdrew their lawsuits. She'll pursue a rule doing the same thing, allowing for public comment and fighting outside the courtroom...
Buddy Garcia, an aide to Gov. Rick Perry, is now the state's "Border commerce coordinator," covering trade issues with Mexico and with Canada. He had been the governor's liaison to the Texas Senate. Assistant Secretary of State Luis Saenz had the Border title, and is giving it up but staying at SOS...
Gov. Perry reappointed Stephen Ables of Kerrville as presiding judge of the sixth administrative judicial region. He's a state district judge. And so is Kelly Moore of Brownfield, reappointed by the Guv for the presiding judge gig in the ninth region. Those are both four-year appointments...
Deaths: Felix Salazar of Houston, the first Hispanic to preside on the state's 1st Court of Appeals, after a long illness. He was 74.
Quotes of the Week
President George W. Bush, in his acceptance speech Wednesday: "Let me close with a word to the people of the state of Texas. We have known each other the longest, and you started me on this journey. On the open plains of Texas, I first learned the character of our country: sturdy and honest, and as hopeful as the break of day. I will always be grateful to the good people of my state. And whatever the road that lies ahead, that road will take me home."
University of Texas at Arlington political science prof Allan Saxe, assessing the elections in the Austin American-Statesman: "With George Bush, Tom DeLay, that big congressional delegation, and by defeating some of the old-time Democrats, I think they'll be looked at with some kind of awe now. So I think Texas Republicans will have even more importance than they normally would."
Texas Democratic Party spokesman Mike Lavigne, spinning a reaction to several congressional defeats for the Houston Chronicle: "Obviously, some of these guys are going to make great candidates in the future, and some will retire, but it does increase the pool size for potential statewide candidates."
Southern Methodist University political science prof Cal Jillson, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on improving prospects for Democrats in Dallas County: "It's not that their party is well-organized or doing things that improve their chances of winning. It's the demographic changes in the county that are helping them win."
Outgoing Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier, a Democrat and a lesbian, telling the Associated Press that incoming Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who's also a Democrat and a lesbian, will be able to win over the people in her department: "My guys, quite frankly, are ardent supporters of mine. If somebody made a statement that somehow I was less of a sheriff because I'm a woman or a lesbian, my male officers would be some of the first ones riled."
Democrat David McQuade Leibowitz, who beat Rep. Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, telling the San Antonio Express-News what it's like to end a campaign: "It's kind of like taking a large exam in college. The different parts of your body don't necessarily shut down in sequence or at the same time."
A Santa Monica voter identified as Jerry Peace Activist Rubin and described in The New York Times as a "real-deal California liberal" on the outcome of the presidential election: "Maybe I'm on the wrong side of the culture war."
Texas Weekly: Volume 21, Issue 21, 8 November 2004. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2004 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.