Naked City

Lege Primary Race Rundown

Death, taxes -- and elections. The uncertainty over congressional district lines has produced predictable confusion in electoral preparations -- county clerks all over Texas are trying to confirm what ballots should say and where precinct boxes should be placed. But the days march on, and like it or not, random candidates for the Texas Legislature will be asking for your vote in a few short weeks -- Republican and Democratic primaries are March 9.

Even before then -- Jan. 20, the day after the Iowa presidential caucuses -- two state Senate special elections will be held (early voting has already begun), for Districts 1 and 31, where Sens. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, have announced their resignations. The race for District 1, in the state's northeast corner, features six candidates (Republican, Democratic, and Constitutional); the almost-inevitable run-off will most likely pit former Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson (a Democrat) against either current state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, or former Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife, also a Republican. Sadler, who in 10 years in the House earned wide respect, especially on education issues, represents the best chance for state Democrats to alter the current 19-12 Republican Senate majority. Announcing his resignation last month, Ratliff said he thought the district could go either way.

On the other hand, District 31 -- which runs along the state's western edge, including both Amarillo and the Permian Basin (but not Lubbock) -- will almost certainly remain in GOP hands. Six Republicans (all Anglo men) and one Democrat (education consultant Elaine King Miller, an African-American woman) vie to replace Bivins. The GOP candidates include three from the north, including former Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger, and three from the south, including Odessa restaurateur Bob Barnes and Midland oilman Don Sparks. Again, a run-off is likely; in both Districts 1 and 31, run-offs would be held some time in February, before the primary.

Fourteen other Texas Senate seats are up for grabs, but while a few incumbent state senators face opposition, none are likely to be upset. (Ten senators will be re-elected without opposition.) On the House side -- where all 150 seats are up -- 67 candidates are likewise guaranteed a free pass, but there are a few races of more competitive interest. State Board of Education member Alma Allen is again challenging Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, in District 131, in the aftermath of Wilson's defiance of his Democratic colleagues and cooperation with the Republican leadership on congressional re-redistricting. Wilson beat Allen easily when she ran against him in 1996, and it remains to be seen if the bitterness over redistricting will make a difference this time. In District 21 in Southeast Texas, former state Sen. David Bernsen, the 2002 Democratic candidate for land commissioner, is challenging Rep. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland -- at least partly in retaliation for Ritter's support of tort reform.

Only five incumbents are giving up their seats in the House -- three to run for Congress under the new district map. Republicans will likely hold onto the Metroplex districts of prospective U.S. Reps. Arlene Wohlgemuth and Kenny Marchant; in Marchant's District 115, Dallas Co. Commissioner Jim Jackson is now running unopposed. Meanwhile, the nearby District 103, being vacated by Democrat Steve Wolens, will apparently be gift-wrapped for Dallas ISD trustee Rafael Anchia; former state Rep. Domingo Garcia was ruled ineligible to challenge Anchia in the primary by the Dallas Co. Democratic Party, on the grounds he doesn't actually live in District 103. Garcia -- who represented a different district in the Lege until 2001, and whose wife represents a different part of town on the Dallas City Council -- says he'll appeal the party's decision. The other two open seats, in East Texas -- being vacated by Barry Telford, D-Texarkana, and congressional candidate Wayne Christian, R-Center -- are more likely to be toss-ups.

Locally, District 50 incumbent Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, will face three GOP challengers in March; the winner will face a November date with Democrat Mark Strama. (Stick is reported to be considering a run for Congress in the new District 10.) In District 17, which includes Bastrop Co., Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake -- after initially announcing his retirement and flirting briefly with switching parties -- faces two Democratic primary challengers; on the GOP side, five candidates include State Board of Education member Cynthia Thornton of Round Top. To the west, in District 46 -- including Hays and Caldwell counties -- Republicans Alan Askew and Martin Harry will vie for the right to face freshman Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, in November. Other than Stick, no member of the Travis Co. delegation faces a primary challenge, and only Todd Baxter, R-Austin, will face an opponent -- former SafePlace director Kelly White -- in November.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Bill Ratliff, Paul Sadler, Teel Bivins, Tommy Merritt, Alma Allen, Ron Wilson, David Bernsen, Allan Ritter, Jack Stick, Mark Strama, Patrick Rose, Todd Baxter, Kelly White, Cynthia Thornton, Robby Cook, Arlene Wohlgemuth, Kenny Marchant, Wayne Christian, Steve Wolens

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