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At Capitol, Fresh Faces and an Experience Deficit

The next version of the Texas Legislature will have an unusually high number of new lawmakers — and a temporary deficit in legislative experience.

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The 2010 election swept a huge number of new people into the Texas House — 35 of the 150 members, the vast majority of them Republicans.

That’s not unprecedented, but combined with the traditionally high turnover of a redistricting year, like the one we’re in, the next Legislature could be overflowing with people with little or no experience.

A legislative session only lasts 20 weeks. A tenderfoot spends some of that time finding the office, a place to stay, the cafeteria and the rest of the time wondering exactly how to pass a bill, what to look out for and which votes might be leave their constituents unhappy. It takes more than one session to really learn how to do the job.

The next class could be even bigger than the last. One of every five members of the House is leaving voluntarily. Some are tired of it. Some want to go home and make money. Some want to spend more time with their families, whether the rest of us believe that overused pretext or not. Some — like Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown — are running for higher office: Congress and the state Senate, respectively. Some — Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, and Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo, are examples — are running for lower office. They’re after jobs in their respective county governments.

Others will leave the House according to the volition of others, rejected by voters in either the May 29 primary, the July runoffs or the November general election.

And the House will convene, as it always does, in the January after the election. Members will elect a speaker, and a few weeks later, that speaker will assign representatives to various committees, picking chairmen and chairwomen from the 149 faces on the roster. The House has 36 committees, each with a chair and a vice chair.

See where this is going?

In that gaggle of freshmen and sophomores, there is probably a future governor or United States senator. Someone will become a star.

But not yet.

Here’s another cut at this: The number of Republicans in the House jumped from 76 to 99 after the 2010 elections. Three defections from the Democrats made it 102. A disproportionate number of the new people are Republicans; a disproportionate number of the Republicans are new people. The Republicans remain in charge. And they’ll have to manage their affairs while training a new batch of officeholders from both parties, trying to figure out which ones might be future leaders and which ones might end up wearing orange jumpsuits on their way to court.

And another: Some of the members who aren’t running again were in leadership positions. Five chair committees. It’s possible that some in the leadership lose re-election bids. Some committee chairs are facing primary opponents.

Change is constant in politics, but not on this scale. The experienced people at the Capitol — officeholders, lobbyists, staffers — will have some gaps, too. They have new faces to learn. They have new political positions and promises to consider when they’re asking for help. Here’s how one lobbyist put it: “Are they an unruly mob that wants to seek power, or do they look to the wise men — the senior members — for guidance?”

The voters will have their chance to weigh in. Several members face opponents in the primaries, and the regular flavors of the modern Republican Party are on display: fiscal conservatives and traditional Republicans and moderates and movement conservatives and Tea Partiers.

Some candidates have signed pledges of allegiance to various ideas and platforms. Gov. Rick Perry is flashing his budget compact for members to sign or endorse. Americans for Tax Reform — that’s Grover Norquist’s group in Washington — continues to collect anti-tax pledges from candidates and officeholders. Other groups offer their endorsements — seals of approval that say, basically, “If you like us, you’ll like the candidates we like.”

Chances are pretty good that the Republicans will lose some seats in the House, just because it’s difficult to draw political maps to protect 102 spots. The elections will reveal the new partisan breakdown.

The newcomers will demonstrate their skills and their political peculiarities later, after they find their parking spots at the Capitol.

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