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Didn't See THAT Coming

In retrospect, everything on our Hot List should have been Red. In the Texas House, all seven Republicans on that list survived, and easily, along with two of the Democrats. The two congressmen got booted, along with the 19 other Democrats on that roster. Three Democrats who weren't on our list went down on Tuesday, including David McQuade Leibowitz of San Antonio, and every officeholder named Solomon Ortiz (that's a father and son, in the U.S. and Texas Houses, respectively, if you just came in).

In retrospect, everything on our Hot List should have been Red. In the Texas House, all seven Republicans on that list survived, and easily, along with two of the Democrats. The two congressmen got booted, along with the 19 other Democrats on that roster. Three Democrats who weren't on our list went down on Tuesday, including David McQuade Leibowitz of San Antonio, and every officeholder named Solomon Ortiz (that's a father and son, in the U.S. and Texas Houses, respectively, if you just came in).

For Republicans, the election was a political jackpot that gave them unprecedented control of the state government they already dominated: Another sweep of the statewide offices, including the two high courts, three more seats in the congressional delegation (it'll now be 23-to-9), the status quo in the Senate, where Republicans enjoy a 19-to-12 advantage, and a 22-seat pickup in the House, where Republicans will now hold 99 of 150 seats.

For the Democrats, maybe the best metaphor is Pompeii.

Bill White did better than any statewide Democrat on the ballot, for what it's worth. He got 42.3 percent — less than the 43.7 percent Barack Obama got in Texas two years ago. White won 28 of the state's 254 counties. He outperformed the other Democrats on the ticket in Houston, as advertised, but only managed to beat Rick Perry by two percentage points on his home court. The former mayor got 50.2 percent of the vote in Harris County. The next best performance by a statewide Democrat came from Supreme Court candidate Bill Moody of El Paso, who got 44.1 percent in Harris County.

The White umbrella didn't protect Houston Democrats in state races. Kristi Thibaut pulled 42.4 percent in her rematch with former Rep. Jim Murphy. Ellen Cohen did better, at 49.3 percent, but fell to Republican Sarah Davis by 725 votes. Hubert Vo survived with 52.2 percent, but it was dicey for a while there. Two Republicans on the Democratic hit list never broke a sweat: Dwayne Bohac pulled 62.5 percent, and Ken Legler got 59.3 percent. No worries.

Perry ended up more than 12 percentage points ahead of White, 55 percent to 43.3 percent. Turnout was about normal, overall, for a gubernatorial year election: 4,972,895. That's 26.5 percent of the state's Voting Age Population; 26.5 percent voted in 2006; and 29.4 percent in 2002. More than half of the voters — 53.1 percent — voted early. Some notable early votes: Bexar, 64.2 percent; Brazoria, 62.3 percent; Collin, 57.6 percent; Fort Bend, 61.2 percent; Galveston, 67.9 percent; Harris, 55.9 percent; Lubbock, 66.5 percent; Montgomery, 57.3 percent; Tarrant, 48.7 percent; and Travis, 55.8 percent.

Perry got his biggest raw vote yields in Montgomery, Tarrant, Collin, Denton, Williamson, Smith and Lubbock counties. For White, the biggest raw vote margins were in Travis, Dallas, Hidalgo, El Paso, Harris, Webb and Cameron. Perry's big counties swamped White's. Where the governor left his seven leaders with 264,058 votes in his bag, White's big seven produced only 194,268. Here's another way to look at it: Perry, who won in 226 counties, got more net votes from his top five counties (223,480) than White got in all of the 28 counties he won (210,124). The other 221 wins were gravy.

Perry won early voting with 56.8 percent, a number that shrunk to 52.9 percent in Election Day voting; his final number was 55 percent (so he's rid of that 39-Percent Governor title).

Other musings on the election:

• Rep. Donna Howard won by 15 votes. Assuming she wins an inevitable recount, she's the last female Anglo Democrat left in the Texas House.

• Texas Republicans, long tormented for their inability to put minorities in office, elected several this time out. That group includes James White of Woodville, Stefani Carter of Dallas, Raul Torres of Corpus Christi, Jose Aliseda of Beeville, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock and John Garza of San Antonio.

• The luckiest guy in Texas might be Allan Ritter of Nederland, who cruised to victory without a Republican opponent on a night when every similarly situated Democrat was being thrown out.

Here's the long election rundown we did in The Texas Tribune, and here's a link to the full election results on the Texas Secretary of State's website.

Party Mix

The House is closer to a one-party supermajority than it's been since the mid-1980s, when Democrats had 95 seats (in 1985) and 111 seats (in 1983). That particular shift — 16 seats in one election — happened with President Ronald Reagan's "It's morning in America" reelection in 1984. The next big shift was in 2002, when with the help of new maps and a boost from a then-popular George W. Bush administration, Texas Republicans again picked up 16 seats, jumping from 72 members to 88 and into the majority for the first time since Reconstruction. The Senate, meanwhile, has been remarkably stable — at least in its partisan numbers — since the 2002 election. Here's the latest charting of the changes in the two chambers over the last 40 years:

Now What?

It's been more than 25 years since either party had a supermajority in the Texas House, but the Republicans are on the lip of it.

The status upgrade matters far beyond bragging rights. It forces new strategies for the legislative session in January and will ripple into the 2012 election. When a party wins everything, as the Republicans have in Texas this year, they get almost everything their way. They also have everything to lose.

The rules are set up to make some sorts of legislation more difficult to pass. It takes two-thirds of the House, for instance, to tap the state's Rainy Day Fund, which is expected to top out at $9 billion this year. With a biennial shortfall estimated at $20 billion, give or take $5 billion, scrounging budget-writers and state leaders are already warning lawmakers not to use all of the Rainy Day money. Not too worry: The conservative supermajority makes drastic cuts more likely than a withdrawal from the savings account.

It takes two-thirds to pass amendments to the state constitution on to voters. Those same scroungers have talked about legalizing casino gaming or at least slot machines, taxes and fees on which could raise $1 billion or more for the state treasury.

The current political maps for the Texas House were built to elect up to 90 Republicans — on a good day. In 2002, the first election after district boundaries were drawn, Texans put 88 Republicans in the Texas House. Since then, they've dropped to 87, then 81, and then — in the year Barack Obama was running for president and Democrats turned out in droves — to just 76. One of those Democrats has since switched parties, so the partisan divide before the election was 77 to 73.

The most optimistic forecasters hoped this year, when Obama's stratospheric disapproval rating in Texas sent Republicans to the polls in droves, that the GOP would get back to that 2002 high-water mark. They blew right past it, taking 22 seats held by Democrats and getting within spitting distance of one more. Even if a recount in that race goes the incumbent Democrat's way, the new breakdown will be 99 Republicans and 51 Democrats — one vote short of two-thirds. The last time either party had such an overwhelming advantage was 1984, when Democrats had 111 members.

Tuesday's results will color the issues expected to dominate the session: budget and redistricting. It stifles conversation about new taxes, fees and other revenue streams that might help balance the budget. It puts the Republicans in place to draw redder political maps, based on something closer to their current numbers than to the near-even split in the lower chamber two years ago. And it makes it easier for proponents of nativist immigration legislation to win passage of bills that have been blocked in previous years.

It moves the pendulum to the right, shifting the ground under freshman Speaker Joe Straus, Republican of San Antonio, and possibly removing a moderate check on the Senate. In 2009, the House locked up over voter ID legislation that had been passed by the Senate. The change in the House probably makes that sort of tempering effect impossible this time.

That's where the risk lies for the Republicans. Budget cuts are sometimes more popular in theory than in practice, and the state's shortfall is too big to manage with trimming; it will require hacking and slashing to make things balance. Drawing maps for a Republican majority won't be difficult, but it will be difficult to assure all 99 incumbents that their spots are safe. And (this is one the Democrats nurture, but have never been able to back up with actual results) the immigration and related issues could activate Hispanics in Texas, who don't vote in proportion to their numbers in the adult population.

Straus has moved quickly to grab the votes of the newly elected. A dozen-and-a-half of the Democrats defeated on Tuesday night were pledged to vote for him for a second term as Speaker. Less than 24 hours after the polls had closed, he announced he had pledges from at least 128 of the 150 members. Straus, originally elevated by Democrats and a dozen renegades from his own party, thinks he can win his leadership post again even if the House breaks tradition and held the election in the Republican caucus.

Is it going to be different now? Sure, he says. "It's clearly going to be a lot more conservative."

Speaker System

Hard to tell unless you're a member of the House whether this is a serious race for speaker or just the political version of the phantom feelings amputees get from their missing parts: Maybe they've had speaker's races for so long at this time of every other year that they're feeling one, whether it's there or not.

Maybe it's real.

A group of conservative leaders — the same faction that got the door slammed in its face during the vote for a new chair at the state GOP convention last summer — came out of the election pushing for new management and saying directly that Straus hasn't been conservative enough.

Straus says he's now got 128 votes for re-election as speaker — and that the only thing new is that 99 Republicans instead of 76 will make the House a much more conservative body. But Rep. Warren Chisum says he will continue the challenge to Straus that he announced three weeks ago.

The Pampa Republican says the next speaker should be elected by the House Republican Caucus and that he's not convinced — in spite of Straus' claims — that the members who've pledged their support to the incumbent will hold fast. "I'd just like to announce that I'm still in the race for speaker of the House. I understand that the current speaker has released his list of people that he has signed cards for. But the race is not over," Chisum said.

Straus says it is over, and cites as proof the number of people who've pledged to support him: Fewer than two dozen members are still free agents. He says he's not opposed to holding the election in the GOP caucus — "that's up to the members" — but notes Chisum's opposition to a caucus election when he was toying with a run for speaker in late 2001.

Another member, Leo Berman of Tyler, accused Straus of buying votes — by making contributions to the campaigns of House candidates from his own campaign funds. Straus, for instance, contributed $100,000 each to state Reps. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving and Charles "Doc" Anderson of Waco when those two were facing scandals that threatened their incumbencies. They won, and Berman now suggests those were bribes. Chisum wasn't as blunt but didn't disagree with the idea. "I will not deny that," he said when asked about Straus giving more than he did. "He passed out a lot of money to a lot of people."

Straus deflected that charge, saying simply that he has taken care to follow the state's ethics laws and adding, a little more pointedly, that he worked hard to help Republican members who found themselves in electoral trouble.

The actual election of a speaker takes place in January, usually on the first day of the legislative session. Two years ago, Straus upset House Speaker Tom Craddick — even after Craddick claimed to have enough votes to win re-election. Chisum's trying those same waters, hoping that the House is as unhappy with its incumbent today — if for different reasons — than it was after the 2008 elections.

Chet’s Next Step

Had he won on Tuesday night, it would have solidified his reputation as a political miracle worker. Instead, U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, lost the seat he's held for two decades to Republican Bill Flores, a political newcomer, by a 25-point margin. In a night full of losses for Democrats, Edwards' departure is likely to engender the most speculation as Democrats pick up the pieces.

What's next for Edwards? Few, if any, Democrats in Texas can match his native political talent, fundraising prowess and years of experience. There’ll be plenty of talk about a future statewide run— something that could pit him against former Comptroller John Sharp or Bill White in a 2012 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, should Kay Bailey Hutchison decide not to seek another term.

"He's a formidable campaigner, one of the best I've ever seen,” says Republican David Sibley, who represented Waco in the state Senate for 11 years. “This is [the GOP’s] fourth or fifth try in that district, and they just now got him.”

Edwards says he doesn’t know what his future will bring, though he doesn't rule out another try at politics. “I think my wife and sons would strangle me if I even talked about another race at this point,” he says.

Another natural second act for Edwards may be a cabinet or regulatory agency appointment in the Obama administration. Edwards has a good relationship with the president: As Flores pointed out relentlessly during the campaign, Edwards was short-listed as a candidate for vice president in 2008. And as lobbyist Buddy Jones, the HillCo Partners founder who lost a state senate race to him in 1982, notes, he fits the profile of the “good conservative Democrats” that the Obama administration will be looking for to bridge the gap between the parties in the newly polarized Congress. (Edwards said he has had no conversations with the White House about potential appointments.)

Jones can testify first-hand to Edwards’ skills on the campaign trail but raises the prospect that the congressman may lose his appetite for politics after his recent defeat. “Having suffered a defeat at his hands, I can say that once I lost a race, I kind of got cured of running for office again," Jones says.

That leaves the private sector. Edwards has an MBA from Harvard University and could leverage the same interpersonal skills that served him well in politics in the lobby or the business world. “Chet's been one of those rare public officials that’s spent his entire adult life in electoral politics and not made a nickel," says longtime ally Lyndon Olson, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden during the Clinton administration. "It may be a season in his life that he gets into business and try to make some money. And he has a family that he's extremely devoted to, so he probably wants to spend some time with them.”

MALC Maneuvering

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said on Thursday he’s already reached out to the incoming Latino members of the Texas Legislature, including a handful of Republicans, about membership in the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Martinez Fischer, the MALC chairman, said the group has and always will be nonpartisan despite its current makeup of only House Democrats. Three MALC executive committee members — Reps. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi; Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock; and Abel Herrero, D-Robstown — were among the House members ousted from their posts by Republicans on Tuesday.

Martinez Fischer said MALC was chartered in the 1970s in response to a handful of Latino Democrats who didn’t feel their party had their best interests in mind. He said he thinks the recently formed Hispanic Republicans of Texas might have been created out of the same concern and added that, if that’s the case, he’s willing to reach out to them to try to create a better future for Texas Latinos.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Since the first day of early voting, officials reported record mid-term turnout for this election and offered various explanations. But it may just be a shift in the way people vote: Counties are seeing that a larger percentage of voters are simply voting early.

The money-laundering trial of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was in full swing as the prosecution questioned friends, colleagues and even his daughter about his activities related to the 2002 election. He’s accused of funneling corporate money through his organization, Texans for a Republican Majority, to local candidates, violating Texas’ ban on corporate donations. The defense contends that an associate of DeLay’s, John Colyandro, actually ran the organization. Colyandro is set to be tried after DeLay.

Two more U.S. citizens were killed in Mexico this week after a shootout in Ciudad Juárez. Manuel Acosta Villalobos, 25, and Eder Andres Diaz, 23, both students at the University of Texas at El Paso’s business school, were gunned down in a colonia where they lived with family while they attended school, according to the El Paso Times. That slaying follows the earlier murders of Lorena Izaguirre Castañeda, 24, and Edgar Lopez Ochoa, 35, who were both from El Paso.

Two Texas companies showed close interest in Proposition 23 in California, which voters rejected on Tuesday. Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp. each contributed millions of dollars to help pass the resolution, which would have suspended the state’s tough greenhouse gas emissions law until unemployment there dropped from its current 12.5 percent to 5.5 percent for a year. The oil companies argued that the law’s stringency forces them to raise prices and lay off workers.

Not content to be left out of the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert-led Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Austinites held a satellite rally on the south steps of the state Capitol, watching the event via live broadcast. Local color was provided by musicians and elected officials, such as Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Houston saw two of its three ballot initiatives defeated by voters, including a referendum on red-light cameras. Houston voters rejected the cameras, in place since 2006, with 53.2 percent of the vote. The cameras were a dependable source of revenue — about $10 million a year — for the city and will leave a hole in the budget.

Alone among the 50 states, Texas is refusing to comply with federal greenhouse gas emission rules slated to go into effect in January. The Environmental Protection Agency will enforce the new rules and, if Texas does not meet federal guidelines, could put its industries at risk of a construction ban. The regulations are a result of a Supreme Court ruling that deemed greenhouse gases pollutants and an EPA finding that these gases pose a potential health risk. Texas challenged this finding in court and has asked that the new rules not be enforced until the courts rule on the issue.

Death row inmate Anthony Graves, convicted in 1992 of murdering six people, was exonerated and released from prison following years of work by students and volunteers. University of Houston law professor David Dow, who founded the Texas Innocence Network, recruited law and journalism students who tracked down witnesses who vouched for Graves’ whereabouts at the time of the Somerville murders and, with the new evidence, secured Graves’ freedom.

The Texas Department of Transportation got the grant money it was asking for to perform a study of high-speed rail between Oklahoma City and the Texas border, but it only got half of what it asked for. The $5.6 million grant will be used to fund a study establishing preliminary parameters for the line. A project of this magnitude would ultimately cost billions of dollars to construct and may be out of reach until the state can make improvements on existing lines.

Kuempel

You can tell the sort of person Ed Kuempel was by the people who say they're gonna miss him — everybody who knew the guy, basically. The lantern-jawed, ebullient 67-year-old from Seguin died after a heart attack Thursday morning. Kuempel, first elected in 1982, ranked fifth in seniority in the House and on Tuesday won another term; he'd have been third in seniority in the new Legislature in January.

He was in the running for Speaker in late 2008 and was one of 11 Republicans who met in Austin on a Friday night in January 2009, chose from among themselves and elevated Joe Straus in what turned out to be a successful challenge to Speaker Tom Craddick.

Kuempel chaired the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, the panel that oversees gaming, liquor, and other hot legislation. He was also a member of the agenda-setting Calendars Committee. Kuempel had a heart attack near the end of the 2009 legislative session, collapsing in a Capitol elevator during a late-night session of the House. He made a full recovery and was active this year, appearing at legislative and related events, and heading hearings on gaming and other issues likely to arise during the next session.

Political People and Their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Michael Martin of San Antonio to the Texas Racing Commission, which oversees pari-mutuel wagering on horse and greyhound racing. Martin is a veterinarian and principal owner of Retama Equine Hospital.

Victor Leal of Amarillo and Kendall Miller of Houston are joining the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Leal's a restaurateur who lost a Republican House primary earlier this year. Miller's a real estate developer and manager.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, on his future in politics now that he lost his CD-17 seat, in The Texas Tribune: "I think my wife and sons would strangle me if I even talked about another race at this point."

Former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R- Sugar Land, in the Austin-American Statesman: "[Redistricting] ought to be easy this time. Let the Democrats run to Oklahoma. They're not needed for a quorum."

Gov. Rick Perry, in his new book Fed Up!: “Ponzi schemes ... are fraudulent systems designed to take in a lot of money at the front and pay none in the end. This unsustainable fiscal insanity is the true legacy of Social Security and the New Deal.”

Republican Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in The Dallas Morning News as Election Day neared: "36 hours and we’ll all be out of our misery — especially the voters."

Henri Mazza, emcee of the Austin satellite to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Washington, D.C.,"sanity" rally: "We are all going to basically be standing in the warm Texas October sun to watch television instead of staying home on our perfectly comfortable couches in a pretty misguided attempt to prove our sanity."

Democratic consultant Glenn Smith, on whether money really determines the outcome of political races: "If Coke thought they could get you to buy the drink without advertising, they'd try it."

Republican consultant Todd Olsen, on the successful Republican challenge to the most visible Democrat in the Texas House: "[Jim] Dunnam is probably the biggest victory of them all, for a lot of reasons, and I don't think all of us thought we could achieve it."

Rep. Warren Chisum, talking about putting controls on undocumented immigrants in the workforce and answering a question about his own employees: "I don't have but three, and I know where they were born."

Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Holm, David Muto and Morgan Smith


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 42, 8 November 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. 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 (512) 716-8600 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 716-8611.

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