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GOP Takes Travis Seat in House Rout

Bolton loses while Howard squeaks by

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 5, 2010

Donna Howard (l)
Donna Howard (l)
Photo by John Anderson

There was one bright spot in the torrent of darkness for Democrats in the Texas Legislature from the Nov. 2 election: With Republicans holding 99 seats, no matter what they do or say, the GOP will be fully accountable for everything that happens under the dome next session.

That was the best part of the night, and it went downhill from there. Going into Election Day, Democrats knew they were going to lose some of their 73 House districts; the most optimistic estimates from GOP analysts saw them picking up six or seven seats. When the early voting numbers came in, 17 Democratic incumbents were at risk; by the end of the night, that number had swirled up to 22, leaving them with only one spare vote to break a GOP supermajority.

The most shocking result in Travis County was the defeat of two-term House District 47 incumbent Valinda Bolton by Paul Work­man. The former Real Estate Council of Austin board member ran a smear campaign against the incumbent as soft on violent sex offenders – a particularly vile claim considering Bolton's decades of service for multiple charities and agencies providing support to the victims of sexual assault.

If Bolton's loss was a shock, the evening was a switchback ride for her neighbor Donna Howard. Early voting saw her trailing GOP challenger Dan Neil by 477 votes: When all the precincts were counted, she held only a wafer-thin 15-vote lead. With Neil likely to request a recount, it could be weeks before that race is truly over; since the electronic voting tallies won't change, the process would involve laborious debates over provisional ballots. The dramatic switch between early voting and Election Day results leaves strategists scratching their heads, whether or not there's a recount. Howard said: "There was a real surge in Republican in the early vote, we know that. Whether or not that rallied some Democrats who said, 'Wow, I better vote,' I'm not sure."

The pain was shared with big names across the state. House Demo­cratic Caucus Leader Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, long the bane of House Republicans and the mastermind behind last session's successful derailing of the voter ID bill, won't be returning to the House. Closer to home, Patrick Rose's deep pockets couldn't keep the Dripping Springs native in his District 45 seat, while even veteran incumbents like Crosbyton's Joe Heflin lost his seat. A host of Dem freshmen, like Round Rock's Diana Maldo­nado and El Paso's Joe Moody, become one-termers, while the last vestiges of the WD-40s – the nickname for Democrats holding Republican-trending districts – were all but swept away.

There were some last-minute reprieves: House Judiciary Committee Chair Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, looked doomed early on, but his recovery in the E-Day turnout now gives him an edge as a Democratic leader.

Almost perversely, the results put Travis County Democrats as a stronger component of a weakened Demo­cratic caucus. Entering his 11th session, Rep. Elliott Naishtat effectively becomes the dean of the House Dems. Similarly, Tech­nology, Econom­ic Devel­op­ment & Work­force Committee Chair Mark Strama's 14-percentage-point elimination of the well-funded challenge from Republican Patrick McGuin­ness gives him a seniority boost. That's small recompense: Many Democrats have abandoned hope of passing any progressive legislation in the upcoming session, while Naishtat warned that it will "be tougher than ever to stop the leadership from decimating health and human services." Strama added, "In terms of what it means for children's health insurance and public education, and a fair distribution of the tax burden, it's impossible to anticipate what the consequential impact of this election is." Like Naishtat, neither state Reps. Dawnna Dukes nor Eddie Rodriguez faced serious challenges in their East Austin districts.

State Senate

For all the shake-ups in the House, the Senate remained almost stagnant. With 14 contested races on the ballot and Senate districts so tightly drawn as to pretty much ensure a victory for the incumbent party, the upper chamber remains split 20-11 toward the GOP. The sole new face on the floor will be Democrat José Rodríguez, as the former El Paso county attorney replaces the retiring Eliot Shapleigh.

The key question now for House Demo­crats is who will hold the speaker's gavel. Arch-conservative Warren Chisum, R-Pam­pa, has already announced his intention to challenge Speaker Joe Straus, with rumors circulating that even more radical figures like Leo Berman, R-Tyler, and even former Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, might enter the race. Naishtat said: "The fight is to keep Warren Chisum from becoming speaker. At least if we have a moderate as speaker [Straus], we have a fighting chance."

Strama remained optimistic that even the most radical freshmen Republicans will tone down the rhetoric once they're faced with more serious issues on the House floor. If they don't, he warned, the political pendulum that has swung toward the GOP can always swing back. His closing warning to the new majority was very clear: "One thing that happens when you win a big majority is that you have to be responsible about governance, or you don't get to hold it very long."

Texas Legislature

House District 50
Senate District 14
Kirk Watson (D)*115,79161%
Mary Lou Serafine (R) 68,019 36%
Kent Phillips (L) 6,871 4%
Senate District 25
Jeff Wentworth (R)*192,75782%
Arthur Maxwell Thomas IV (L) 40,937 17%
Eric R. Anderson (write-in)952 0%
House District 46
Dawnna Dukes (D)*18,40784%
George E. Emery (L)3,462 16%
House District 47
Paul D. Workman (R)29,838 50%
Valinda Bolton (D)*27,738 46%
Kris Bailey (L)2,480 4%
House District 48
Donna Howard (D)*24,99749%
Dan Neil (R) 24,98249%
Ben Easton (L)1,5173%
House District 49
Elliott Naishtat (D)*30,37585%
Nathan Kleffman (L) 5,24515%
Mark Strama (D)*23,68755%
Pat McGuinness (R) 18,01242%
Emily Cowan (L) 1,4803%
House District 51
Eddie Rodriguez (D)*12,96276%
Marilyn Jackson (R)3,41020%
Arthur DiBianca (L)6994%

House District 48Early VotingElection Day
Dan Neil (R) 15,079 (50%)9,903 (47%)
Donna Howard (D)14,602 (48%)11,119 (47%)
Ben Easton (L)617 (2%)1,349 (6%)

Notable Central Texas Races

House District 17
Tim Kleinschmidt (R)*28,228 (65%)
Pati Jacobs (D)13,860 (32%)
Travis Hill (L)1,290 (3%)
House District 45
Jason A. Isaac (R)27,702 (54%)
Patrick M. Rose (D)*23,686 (46%)
House District 52
Larry Gonzales (R)25,420 (57%)
Diana Maldonado (D)*16,810 (38%)
Charles McCoy (L)2,010 (5%)

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