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The Changing Faces of the Senate

If you find yourself reaching more often for a printed roster come next January when looking around the Senate, don't worry. You are probably not alone in doing so.

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If you find yourself reaching more often for a printed roster come next January when looking around the Senate, don't worry. You are probably not alone in doing so.

The turnover in the Legislature's upper chamber — driven almost exclusively among the ranks of the GOP — has been nothing short of extraordinary during the last two election cycles.

The 2011 Legislature had exactly one change in the GOP Senate caucus. Brian Birdwell won the SD-22 seat relinquished by Kip Averitt. Two years later, there were five new Republicans in the Senate — Charles Schwertner (SD-5), Ken Paxton (SD-8), Kelly Hancock (SD-9), Larry Taylor (SD-11) and Donna Campbell (SD-25).

The trend only accelerated in the current cycle. At least six new Republicans are expected to take up residence in the Senate come January. Those are: Bob Hall (SD-2), Brandon Creighton (SD-4), Paul Bettencourt (SD-7), Van Taylor (SD-8), Don Huffines (SD-16) and Charles Perry (SD-28).

In addition, a new Republican could take over for Glenn Hegar in SD-18 should he win the race for state comptroller and relinquish his seat. And if Konni Burton is able to nab Wendy Davis' SD-10, the Republicans would have an eighth new face next year. More importantly, they would have a 20th vote in the Senate.

This pace of change stands in marked contrast to the Democratic caucus, which has seen a grand total of two new faces since 2009. In 2011, José Rodríguez took the SD-29 seat relinquished by Eliot Shapleigh. And in 2013, Sylvia Garcia entered the Senate, succeeding the late Mario Gallegos Jr.

The only potential new seat among the Democrats would come if Leticia Van de Putte wins her bid for lieutenant governor, which would put her SD-26 seat up for grabs.

Republicans, then, are responsible for putting at least 11 — and maybe as many as 13 — new faces in the Senate since 2012. That's more one-third of the entire body. And for the most part, these new lawmakers are all replacing established incumbents. Only in SD-8 is a freshman Senator (Paxton) being replaced by another freshman (Van Taylor).

The other trend is not just toward new faces but more conservative new faces. In each case, the new Senator is at least as conservative, if not significantly more conservative, than the person he or she is replacing. This accelerating rightward tilt to the Senate is also something that will have an impact on the legislation coming out of the chamber next session.

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