State Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, is dropping his bid for state Senate and won't seek reelection to the Texas House next year, he said Sunday.
Gattis said state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, has decided to seek reelection after all, a move that would keep an experienced hand in what's expected to be a very rough financial session for the Legislature and that could give Democrats in Waco, Texas, a moment of relief.
Ogden hasn't said anything.
Gattis said the campaign and his legislative duties were too great a burden for his young family and law practice right now. He and his wife have three kids under six, and he's half of a two-man law firm in Georgetown. "In the last two months, we've seen a real softening in the economy and in the law practice... I know it's not going to get better if I'm not there."
He didn't rule out political ambitions for the future — just for now. He said he and Ogden have been talking for a couple of weeks, and that the senator — who decided in September not to seek another term — was willing to step back in. "If I decided not to run, he would get back in the race — that's what he told me," Gattis said. "That gave me the peace to step aside. I think we need him right now."
Ogden was traveling, but had an aide call back to say he had no comment on his plans.
Gattis' move is a real surprise. He was elected to the House in 2002 and was briefly a candidate for speaker almost a year ago, when the House deposed Tom Craddick and put Joe Straus in the high chair. In the new lineup, Gattis didn't get a chairmanship. But a door opened in September, when Ogden announced he would not seek another term in the Senate.
Senate District 5 runs from Bryan to Georgetown, and Gattis and Ben Bius — who's from the other end of the district — were the only two candidates who had publicly expressed any interest (Bius' campaign consultant, Todd Smith, said Sunday that he remains in the race and hasn't heard from Ogden that Ogden's plans have changed). At least three candidates — Milton Rister, Charles Schwertner, and Cedar Park City Councilman Stephen Thomas — have been campaigning to replace Gattis in that Williamson County House district.
Ogden, three-term chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, announced right after Labor Day that he would not be a 2010 candidate for Senate, saying 20 years in the House and Senate was enough. That left the budget-writing Finance Committee without a chairman as the state heads into a very difficult financial and economic stretch, and it immediately fired speculation that Ogden might run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. Edwards occupies the most Republican seat in the U.S. that's held by a Democrat. The district stretches south to Bryan, and many pols think Ogden could mount a serious challenge to the incumbent.
His exit announcement on September 10 fed that speculation (and made way for this flip) with this line: "Though I have no immediate plans to remain in politics beyond my present term, I am not, by today's announcement, ruling out a future candidacy for elected office."
As of Sunday afternoon, that announcement was still front and center on Ogden's campaign website, with the title, "Ogden will not run again for state Senate." Other than accounts from Gattis and others in his circle, Ogden's plans are up in the air — he's given no public clue as to his intentions.
The budget problems are getting more attention in Austin as the economy worsens. Sales tax receipts have fallen by double digits for five months in a row, prompting experts to fret over whether the state will have enough money coming in to cover current spending plans. The next budget has troubles even without those economic worries. The state's current budget includes billions in programs that were funded with one-time money. The business tax created to pay for local property tax cuts in 2006 brings in less money than is needed for those cuts. Spending on education and health and human services accounts for nearly 3/4ths of the budget. And increases in those two categories are outrunning increases in the economy. When the economy's growing, that is. While there's no guarantee Ogden would get the finance job if he returns — that's up to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — he's got more experience than anyone else in the upper chamber.
Senate terms ordinarily last for four years, but everyone in the Senate has to run for reelection in 2012, after the state's political districts are redrawn. Anyone on the ballot in 2010, then, will be seeking a two-year term.