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Averitt's Out. Now What?

The Waco senator's exit could open the door for the Democrats, who don't have a candidate in the race but might get a chance to add one.

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The next senator from SD-22 could be the incumbent, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, Republican challenger Darren Yancy, or a Republican or Democrat whose name is not on the ballot.

It's strange, but it's true.

Averitt shocked fellow Republicans — including his friends and staffers — by telling the Waco Tribune-Herald that he was withdrawing his bid for reelection. The deadline for candidates to file has passed, as has the deadline for candidates to get off the ballot.

Darren Yancy, a Burleson insurance exec who was challenging incumbent  in the GOP primary, looks to be the most likely beneficiary. But just because it looks that way doesn't make it so. And Averitt's withdrawal could open the door for the Democrats, who don't have a candidate in the race but might get a chance to add one.

According to officials with the Texas Secretary of State, it's too late for Averitt to take his name off the ballot. If Yancy wins the primary, he'll be the only major party candidate in the race, and as such, would be the probable winner in November's election. No Democrats filed to run, and although there are two Libertarians vying for that SD-22 seat, no Libertarian has ever won a seat in the Texas Legislature.

There's another possible outcome: If Averitt wins the primary — as incumbents generally do — and then quits, Republican Party officials can choose a candidate to replace him. But his departure opens a door for the Democrats. If he's off the ballot and neither of the major parties has a candidate, both of them — the Republicans and the Democrats — get to add a nominee for the race. What is now on track to be a Republican race would suddenly be competitive, at least on paper.

If Yancy wins in March, the Democrats don't get to play. Averitt goes home, Yancy runs in November against a Libertarian, and that's that. And if you're playing geographic politics here and not partisan politics, that would move what has been a Waco seat for years and years to a Fort Worth suburb.

Yancy, who lives in Burleson, has an insurance agency and spent his professional life in sales and marketing. He grew up in Lubbock and in Euless, went to the University of Texas at Arlington, and he and his wife have four kids. He has described himself at local forums as "a family man, a Christian conservative, a fiscal conservative"… and says "the reason I got into this race, his name is Barack Hussein Obama."

Averitt, a Baylor grad, came to the Legislature as an aide to then-Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco. He ran for the House in 1992 and served there until Sibley retired, winning his former boss' seat in 2002. He's chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, an expert on water policy, and serves on a number of other key committees, including Finance, Education, and Business & Commerce. In real life, he's a CPA and tax consultant. He's generally considered a moderate among Senate Republicans.

So here's the deal: If Averitt loses the primary, the seat probably goes to Yancy. And to Burleson. If Averitt wins the primary and then quits, Yancy would be out of the running and local Republican officials could choose a substitute for Averitt who could run in November. Local Democrats could also choose a candidate. And Waco might still have a chance. Several counties get to play, though. The district includes Bosque, Coryell, Ellis, Falls, Hill, Hood, Johnson, McLennan, Navarro, and Somervell counties.

None of this will have any meaningful effect on the partisan split in the Senate. It's a Republican seat now, and it's a Republican district. Even if the Democrats pull out a win, it wouldn't affect the majority in the Senate. Averitt is the second senator to bail this year; Democrat Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso decided in 2009 not to seek reelection. And he's the tenth incumbent lawmaker to opt out; eight House members, like Averitt and Shapleigh, want off their leashes.

By the way, Averitt has said he won't run for reelection, and he cited health reasons."I have diabetes and high blood pressure, and my doctor has advised me that I am a walking heart attack," he said in a statement to the Waco paper that was passed along to other reporters. "While I have tried to regulate my health with diet, exercise and medication, my doctor has unequivocally recommended that reducing stress is a key component of my treatment. My family and I thank you for your thoughts and prayers."

He could, for those same reasons, resign before his term ends next January. That could force a special election.

But that's another story.

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