Republicans Denied a Supermajority (Again)

Austin Rep. Donna Howard's seat may mean as much to the state as it does to her district

Howard (l) and Neil
Howard (l) and Neil

Remember election night? Remember how the Republicans took the Texas House of Representatives 99-51? That math could still change with two Central Texas seats – including one in Travis County – still not fully resolved.

On Nov. 2, incumbent Rep. Donna How­ard, D-Austin, held House District 48 in western Travis County by 16 votes over GOP challenger Dan Neil. Cue the inevitable recount, demanded by the Neil campaign. When the numbers came in on Dec. 2, Neil actually picked up one vote, bringing his total to 25,011, while Howard fell by three to 25,023. That's a narrower victory for Howard, but still a victory – and a vital one for the Demo­crats. If the Republicans held 100 seats, that supermajority could make them unstoppable and render the Democrats effectively irrelevant in Texas politics. They couldn't even repeat the famous 2003 quorum-busting trip to Ard­more, Okla. (see "The House Adjourns to Oklahoma," May 16, 2003). Howard's win means they retain that nuclear option, at least in theory.

However, Neil's campaign has yet to concede, instead raising questions about straight-ticket ballots cast by absentee voters living overseas indefinitely. Even though these nonresidents are allowed to vote only in federal races, on recount night Neil's campaign suggested that their ballots should count in HD 48. The peril for Democrats is that if Neil does file a challenge, it would be heard by the Legislature. At first glance, that would appear to mean the Republican House Caucus could vote itself that supermajority, but Howard's attorney, Buck Wood, said, "The most they can do is to allow [Neil] a new election." And, he added, if the Legislature were to count those nonresident ballots in HD 48, "Howard would win by 20."

While Neil's campaign ponders strategy in Travis County, another House race is still being fought 50 miles south in Guadalupe County, where the Nov. 4 death of Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, triggered a special election to be held Dec. 14. The traditionally safe GOP seat is now embroiled in a 10-way race – with seven Republicans, two Democrats, and a Liber­tar­ian – that could throw the accepted math into total disarray, and there's already disunity in the GOP ranks. The Young Conservatives of Texas and fundamentalist revisionist historian David Barton are backing Myrna McLeroy. Edmund's son John Kuempel has picked up two big-name endorsements: Bennie Bock, who preceded Edmund in the seat, and Texas Rangers co-owner Nolan Ryan. Hopefully, this will all be settled before the House reconvenes at noon on Jan. 11.

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Donna Howard, Dan Neil, Edmund Kuempel, John Kuempel, election

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