Texas Lege: The GOP Wave Recedes

Locally, nothing changed

Donna Howard wins by a landslide.
Donna Howard wins by a landslide. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Tuesday night, as he considered the subtly new look of the Texas House of Represent­atives, Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, summed things up very simply. "We can break quorum," he said as the results were posted at the Driskill Hotel. In the last Lege, Democrats didn't even have enough members to do that.

Texas Lege: The GOP Wave Recedes

Locally, nothing changed. All six Travis County House incumbents – Naishtat and fellow Dems Donna Howard, Dawnna Dukes, Eddie Rod­riguez, and Mark Stra­ma, plus Repub­lic­an Paul Workman – held their seats by comfortable margins. But statewide, Dem­o­crats picked up seven seats, for a new total of 55. That means that (in theory) under the House's two-thirds rule, they can block the passage of controversial legislation like voter ID and school vouchers by no-showing – as they did in the 2003 battle over re-redistricting.

The House has see-sawed wildly over the last two election cycles. In 2008, it was split just 76-74 in favor of the GOP; in 2010, the Tea Party wave plus a couple of defections gave the Republicans a 102-seat supermajority, rendering the Dems virtually powerless. The big question for Democrats going forward is whether this really marks the start of a return to power, or simply shows that Repub­licans overextended themselves in 2010. More worryingly for everyone, there are 49 freshmen in the new House. That leaves a massive experience gap, and the unanswerable question of who will lead the House: present Speaker Joe Straus or conservative favorite Bryan Hughes. The Dems may have a direct say in that outcome, meaning more influence on the legislative process.

On the Senate side, the heavily gerrymandered map provided the expected results locally, with Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson retaining his seat and Tea Party favorite Donna Campbell easily defeating Democrat John Courage to replace veteran lawmaker Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. Democrats were jubilant over one major Senate win, though. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, had been Republican enemy No. 1 last session and had fought a bitter redistricting battle. When the GOP couldn't win through gerrymandering, they sent against her the well-funded Rep. Mark Shelton and a heavy smear campaign. She won 51% to 49%, and her survival means the 12-member Demo­crat­ic minority can deploy the two-thirds rule in the Senate too.

It was also a big night for promotions for former Texas House members. Three Repub­licans – Kelly Hancock from Fort Worth, Larry Tay­lor from Friendswood, and Ken Paxton from McKinney – rise to the Texas Senate. Meanwhile, two House Democrats – Pete Gallego from Alpine and Marc Veasey from Fort Worth – are headed to Congress.

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