As more candidate filings become available from the state's bigger counties, it's apparent that Republicans are going to have a noisy beginning to the year. They've got an unusual number of primary election challengers to their legislative incumbents. Democrats, meanwhile, are making a weak play for political control in the next decade. Redistricting comes around in 2011, and the minority party needs either a House majority or a majority of seats on an arcane legislative board to control the map-making. They don't appear to be in position to do that.
In a year of active conservative protests against federal spending and economic and health policies, Texas legislators on the state and federal level face more competition than usual on this year's ballots. It'll be about two weeks before candidates report their campaign finances — that'll be the first real clue as to the strength of the challengers and the incumbents they seek to depose.
Texas Democrats, meanwhile, are mounting a mild offensive on statewide offices that figure into redistricting. The Legislature will try to draw new political maps after the 2010 census. If they fail (or the governor vetoes their plans), congressional maps will go to court and state maps will go to a five-member panel that includes the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the comptroller, land commissioner, and attorney general. Democrats didn't produce a comptroller candidate, and recent resignations and party switches made it more difficult to take control of the House and the speakership next year. They'd have to go three-of-three — winning Lite Guv, attorney general, and land commissioner to have a majority on the Legslative Redistricting Board.
Stop here for your daily caveat: Candidates had to file with the political parties by the close of business on Monday. The parties have ten days to get their ballots formalized and into the state's hands. And many candidates — two-thirds of the House, for instance — file with their local party officials instead of going to the state office. Those locals operate at what you might call different levels of efficiency, and not all of their candidate lists are available. The lists — and our database that results from them — will have some nicks and dents until the process is over. One more thing: We're in the process of getting the Libertarians into the database. Hang tight.
Some notes from the filings:
• House Speaker Joe Straus, elected just a year ago after a contentious couple of weeks, didn't draw a major-party opponent.
• Democrats are challenging Republicans in all three Texas Supreme Court slots on the ballot, but left two of three Rs on the other high court — the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — unopposed.
• U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, drew five opponents in his own primary. And one Democrat. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, drew three primary opponents. And so did U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside. And Republican Kay Granger of Fort Worth drew two.
• As expected, state Rep. Chuck Hopson will have opposition in his first GOP primary this year. Hopson switched parties in November and some of his new friends had hoped to keep the field clear. But two Republicans in that East Texas district are gunning for him in what should be one of the most interesting races on the ballot.
• The House ballot has two rematches on it. In Houston, Al Edwards will be defending his seat against fellow Democrat Borris Miles, who won it away in 2006 and then lost the first rematch in 2008. In Waco, Republican Charles "Doc" Anderson will face Democrat John Mabry in November; he beat Mabry to win the seat in 2004.
• State Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, the leader of the House Democrats, has an opponent: Leon County GOP Chair Marva Beck signed up on the last day to oppose him.
• And there were no last minute resignations. The only members who volunteered not to come back — one in the Senate, and eight in the House — announced their intentions well before the filing deadline. If you don't have a calculator handy, that means 100 percent of the congressional delegation, 96 percent of the state senators, and 95 percent of the state representatives want to come back.