Has the Bleeding Stopped?

The House races may mark the roots of a Dem revival

The Texas Democratic Party was quick to find a silver lining in the GOP cloudburst, and that glimmer was at the Legislature. "For the first time in a generation," declared the Dem Web site early Wednesday, "Texas Democrats have gained seats in the Legislature." Actually it is more than a generation – the Dem membership has steadily eroded since 1972, as the white South began to turn Republican, and if indeed that historic trend has finally reached its nadir in Texas, an otherwise giddy night for Republicans could mark the turning point toward a new Democratic revival.

The final Lege outcome is in fact uncertain, as of Wednesday. As expected, the contested state Senate races were noncompetitive, but as the Dems crowed, as of Wednesday morning (don't write it in stone just yet), it appeared that Dems had picked up three seats in the House and the Republicans two, meaning a net gain of one additional member and an ever-so-slightly diminished Republican majority of 87-63. That may not sound like much, but among the GOP casualties was none other than Appropriations Chair and 20-year District 149 incumbent Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, apparently defeated by businessman Hubert Vo. If Vo's narrow victory – only 52 votes of 41,000 cast – stands, it would mean not only the first Vietnamese-American House Member, but a major blow to the leadership of House Speaker Tom Craddick. However, Craddick on Wednesday announced he had 119 pledged votes supporting him for a second term as speaker.

As Appropriations chair, Heflin was closely associated with last year's draconian state budget cuts, especially to children's health insurance, made by the Republican-dominated Lege to offset a $10 billion deficit. His reputation was also damaged in recent weeks by an embarrassingly public court fight with a former maid over the custody of her young son. More simply, demographic changes to District 149, with a growing Hispanic, African-American, and Asian population, may have overtaken Heflin, and he was too slow to respond. But as of Wednesday, Heflin had not conceded, and it appears there will be a recount.

A recount was also likely in San Antonio's District 117, where an acrimonious race ended in an apparent 527-vote victory for Democrat David Leibowitz in what is traditionally a Democratic district that one-term incumbent Ken Mercer had won in 2002 when opponent Raul Prado was mired in a bribery scandal that eventually sent him to jail. Similarly, Waco Democrat John Mabry had won his majority Republican district when his 2002 opponent, Holt Getterman, was caught up in an extramarital scandal. The GOP retook the seat on Tuesday, as Charles "Doc" Anderson rode a 57% early-vote lead to a 53% victory; Mabry may have been one of the few Democrats to suffer a backlash over his involvement in the House Democrats' quorum-busting exile to Ardmore.

There were several other closely watched House races across the state, but – barring possible recounts or readjustments in the next few days – no other change to the current balance in the chamber, as each side lost one incumbent: Republican Jack Stick of Austin and Dem Dan Ellis of Livingston. Several "WD-40" members faced strong GOP challenges, but other than Ellis, all appeared to have survived. In District 69, incumbent Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, had apparently defeated a strong challenge by Republican Shirley Craft, but a machine glitch that undercounted as many as 8,000 votes left that outcome uncertain Wednesday afternoon. And District 106 Republican incumbent Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, dogged by personal and public scandal, escaped a strong challenge from Dem newcomer Katy Hubener – who was endorsed by Allen's own daughter.

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Election 2004, Texas Democratic Party, Leticia Van de Putte, Talmadge Heflin, Mark Strama, John Mabry, Charles Doc Anderson, Dan Ellis, David Leibowitz, Dan Ellis, David Farabee, Ray Allen

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