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Analysis: The "GOP" Strikes Back

State Rep. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, is on his way to the Texas Senate, thanks in part to the "gringos y otros pendejos" derided last summer by his opponent and House colleague, Trey Martinez Fischer.

State Reps. José Menéndez (left) and Trey Martinez Fischer, both Democrats from San Antonio, are seeking the Texas Senate seat vacated by Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor of San Antonio.

Chalk one up for Gringos y Otros Pendejos.

Trey Martinez Fischer, one of the toughest, most combative and effective Democrats in the Texas House, lost an election Tuesday in San Antonio — and he lost it badly.

That was heartbreaking for some of his allies, but they were clearly outnumbered in his hometown, and his many and numerous detractors are celebrating. Fellow state Rep. José Menéndez, also a Democrat but one with a more conciliatory and mellow aspect, is on his way to the Texas Senate, where he will replace Leticia Van de Putte. Martinez Fischer is on his way back to the House.

Maybe they’ll meet again. After all, the seat will be on the ballot again in 2016, and voter turnout in a regular election in the solidly Democratic district will probably be higher than it was for this special election.

In the meantime, look: Menéndez got 59 percent of the total vote, won the early vote with 60 percent and won the election day vote with 58 percent. Early voting accounted for almost three of every five votes. Oh, and turnout was lousy, with 24,961 of Senate District 26’s 406,235 registered voters bothering to cast a ballot. That’s 6.1 percent. Outstanding, San Antonio.

It is true that Menéndez won with the help of Republicans. And it is also true that the Republicans in SD-26 don’t have much choice but to vote for a Democrat; their only decision, if they decide to vote at all, is which Democrat they want to vote for.

But this was a big win for the GOP. It’s fair to say, institutionally, that Texas Republicans have had it up to their chins with the Democrat known widely as TMF. He has often been the face of House Democrats working in opposition to Republicans, one of their floor leaders when the fighting is nasty and partisan. He’s a warrior, and is pretty good at it, which is reason enough for the Republicans to celebrate when he stumbles.

That business about the gringos illustrates the tension. At last year’s Texas Democratic Party convention, Martinez Fischer poked the Republicans for their immigration platform and hot rhetoric with his gibe about what the letters G.O.P. really stand for.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a self-described nonpartisan group that almost always sides with Republican candidates, worked hard in this contest. You could say they worked to make sure Menéndez was the winner. You could say that they worked hard to make sure Martinez Fischer was not the winner. Either way, you would be correct. They’re happy.

University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall might well have lifted a glass in honor of the election result. Martinez Fischer has been one of his legislative antagonists in the long battle over the direction of UT, the proper role of regents and the exercise of political clout in student admissions. Martinez Fischer will be back, but for someone like Hall, Tuesday’s defeat must’ve been sweet.

Senate Republicans, especially those of recent House vintage, can breathe a sigh of relief. Martinez Fischer has been the bane of House Republicans for years, and who among the GOP senators wants to import that?

House Republicans get their man back, but he’s wounded and winded. Others have moved into the leadership formation in the House while he was running, and he returns to seats on the Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax bills and has a fair amount of juice, and the Committee on Special Purpose Districts, which is not established as a source of great power. By contrast, Martinez Fischer was on Ways and Means and on Natural Resources two years ago — a stronger set of assignments.

Democrats who lined up with Martinez Fischer fell with him, a list that notably includes Steve Mostyn, a founder of the Texas Association of Consumer Lawyers and a former president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and a big backer of Martinez Fischer’s campaign. If there is a dart board in the headquarters of any of the state’s tort reform groups, his picture is probably on it. Many of those Democrats have no hard feelings for the winner, but hate that he won with the help of their enemies. A close loss would have hurt, but the stomping they took on Tuesday was especially painful.

And then there is Menéndez. He’s on his way to the state Senate.

Tuesday, for him, was a pretty good day.

Disclosure: The Texas Trial Lawyers Association is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Steve Mostyn was a major donor to the Tribune in 2010. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Politics State government José Menéndez Texas House of Representatives Texas Legislature Texas Senate Trey Martinez Fischer