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First day of bill filing for 86th Legislature is November 12, 2018.  The 86th Legislature convenes on January 8, 2019.

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Friday
Nov302018

From staying out to declaring victory, how Dennis Bonnen ended the speaker's race in a weekend

                 By Cassandra Pollock, Alex Samuels and Emma Platoff

                  November 12, 2018

On a Sunday night in October, a group of about 40 Republican members of the Texas House met in Austin to work out a problem: A year had passed since Speaker Joe Straus announced he was retiring — and while six candidates to replace him had emerged, none had surfaced as the clear frontrunner.

Their goal was to change that, and many had their eyes on someone who wasn’t even in the race — or in the room that night. They wanted someone who would protect the independence of the 150-member lower chamber, even if that meant standing up to other state leaders. They wanted someone who aligned ideologically with a majority of Republicans, a concern some members had expressed with the current field of candidates. And they wanted someone who they thought had a viable path to victory — securing at least 76 of the 150 votes when the House voted on its next leader in January.

The choice, at least for some members in the room, seemed clear: They wanted state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, a 46-year-old Angleton Republican who had spent almost half of his life in the House. Bonnen, a shrewd tactician and top ally of Straus, had emerged over the past decade as one of the lower chamber's most outspoken members, going to bat for the House over high profile issues like property tax reform and border security.

Getting him the gavel wouldn’t be easy. Just months before, Bonnen had waved off suggestions he’d run to replace Straus. And given Bonnen’s political leanings and reputation for combativeness, not everyone would be on board.

But two days after the October meeting, Bonnen said he was in. The path was laid for him to be the next speaker.

“We felt confident Dennis was the guy.”

Prior to that meeting, Bonnen seemed almost repulsed with the idea of being speaker.

In May, The Texas Tribune published a list of potential speaker candidates, one of whom was Bonnen. He quickly dumped cold water on the rumors, going so far as to joke that such talk upset his family.

His Republican colleagues had other ideas. According to the House lawmakers who orchestrated the October meeting, Bonnen’s history of standing up for the House — coupled with his ability to unify both Republicans and Democrats — was top of mind when they decided to recruit him for the job.

“We looked at the body and said, ‘This is the person we think that’s going to get there,’” said state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. "We knew that Dennis ... could cross over to guys like [former House] Speaker [Tom] Craddick down to incoming freshmen like [Republican] Brad Buckley. We felt confident Dennis was the guy, and we just worked to make sure everyone saw what we saw.”

Ideologically, Bonnen sits close to the party’s right-most flank — a political science professor’s unofficial list ranks him as more conservative than half of Republicans in the 150-member chamber. That had the potential to make him more palatable to the chamber's more conservative members, who resented that the more moderate Straus was elected with the help of Democrats, and who were pushing for the next speaker to be selected solely by members of the GOP.

But Bonnen had also held leadership positions under Straus, who twice named him chair of the powerful budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee and three times appointed him House speaker pro tempore.

Bonnen had also developed a reputation as tough-minded under Straus — someone who was willing to skirmish with the Republican leader of the upper chamber, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who some House members believed attempted to push his agenda at the expense of the House. Bonnen said in 2015 that he viewed his role as “standing up for the House.” That year, he did so over a border security bill that he authored and that passed through the House with little opposition — then stalled in the Senate.

“For some reason, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor, wants to bring the same bad Washington, always politically-gaming concepts to Austin instead of solving problems,” Bonnen said at the time.

With Monday's development, some lawmakers predicted that more fights between the two chambers might be on the horizon. But both sides struck conciliatory tones.

In a statement Monday evening, Patrick congratulated Bonnen and said he looked forward to “building a close partnership with him moving forward.” Bonnen said that he looked forward to working with the lieutenant governor, but also made clear he plans to stay in the role of top House cheerleader during next year’s legislative session.

“We’re gonna be the House,” he said at a press conference Monday afternoon. “When the House stands together, it does great things. And this Texas House is going to do great things.”

A bumpy road

Even with many House Republicans who attended the October meeting backing his speaker bid, Bonnen’s entrance into the race wasn’t smooth sailing.

Some attendees hoped to release a list of members who were behind Bonnen, but that list never publicly materialized. Meanwhile, House Democrats opted to keep their powder dry as their GOP colleagues continued plotting behind the scenes. Many said they believed it was too early to throw their support behind a single candidate with the makeup of the lower chamber still in flux ahead of the November election.

Then, the minority party picked up 12 seats in the lower chamber — a feat that members from both parties said would considerably change the dynamic of the race.

The day after Election Day, nearly 60 members of the soon-to-be 67-member House Democratic Caucus met in Austin to introduce new members and discuss the state of the speaker’s race. While some members insisted on taking their time before throwing their support behind a single candidate, others privately suggested the wiser move was to build on the momentum from the election and back their preferred candidate ahead of a House GOP caucus meeting scheduled for Dec. 1, when the 87-member group of Republican lawmakers was planning to coalesce behind its preferred speaker candidate.

Despite differences among Democrats on how best to move forward, the caucus was making moves to appear unified. On Friday evening, the group’s chair, state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, told members in an email that a majority of the caucus had already signed an agreement pledging to vote together for a speaker candidate.

Only problem was, Democrats weren’t sure who to throw their support behind.

Building momentum

For Bonnen, the race was just heating up.

At the October meeting, state Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican who is more of a centrist, boosted Bonnen's candidacy by withdrawing from the race. But the real momentum for Bonnen picked up the weekend after the election, when the field of speaker candidates dwindled down to four, and eventually, one.

On Saturday, Four Price, an Amarillo Republican, decided it was time to drop out and endorse Bonnen. Price’s departure, which became official the next day, knocked the number of candidates down to six. His exit — and his endorsement of Bonnen — set off a domino effect. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said Sunday he was ending his candidacy and would support Bonnen.

At that point, only one serious alternative was available. If members didn’t want to back Bonnen, they could hope for a deal between the two candidates left in the race, Republican state Reps. Drew Darby of San Angelo and Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches.

Some House Democrats had privately said that a majority of their party would prefer to support Darby — another top Straus ally who was more aligned with the moderate wing of the GOP and who, according to two people familiar with the matter, was set to pick up an endorsement from Clardy. But as Clardy and Darby were finalizing their arrangement, state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, announced he, too, was dropping out.

The outlook for Bonnen seemed almost certain; he called a news conference for 3 p.m. at the Texas Capitol. After that, state Rep. Eric Johnson, the lone Democrat in the race, dropped out and endorsed Bonnen.

At the news conference, Bonnen announced he had support from 109 of the 150 House members for speaker, well above the 76-vote threshold.

“We’re here to let you know that the Texas speaker’s race is over,” said Bonnen, who was flanked by roughly a dozen House Republicans and Democrats. “The House is ready to go.”

Soon after, Clardy and Darby ended their bids, and Bonnen released his list of supporters, which included lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum. For many of the remaining holdouts, Bonnen's triple-digit support seemed insurmountable, even with weeks to go until the formal speaker's vote. By Monday night, even Darby — who just hours before was being positioned as the alternative to Bonnen — seemed to acknowledge that was true on stage at a Texas Tribune event.

“I have already sent Bonnen a congratulatory message,” Darby said.

 

Brandon Formby contributed reporting.

                  "From staying out to declaring victory, how Dennis Bonnen ended the speaker's race in a weekend" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Thursday
Sep062018

Analysis: Will a split Texas electorate split the 2018 ticket?

                  By Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

                  August 29, 2018

If the November 2018 election results bear much resemblance to recent polls, Texas — which hasn’t been a swing state for a long time — would have to reveal a purple streak.

In a place where Republicans and Democrats seem to disagree so strongly and so consistently, recent polls hint at a new kind of animal in Texas politics: An O’Rourke-Abbott voter.

Several summertime polls show a single-digit difference between the Texas contenders for the U.S. Senate — and a big double-digit difference between the candidates for governor.

The latest version of this came this week in a poll from Emerson College, which found Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz leading his challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, 38 percent to 37 percent. That poll found Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez 49 percent to 28 percent.

It’s just one poll, but it illustrates a gap evident in other polling this year. The gap varies in size, but it persists. A June University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, for instance, had the Senate candidates 5 percentage points apart and the candidates for governor 12 points apart. A Quinnipiac Poll at the first of the month had Cruz up by 6 percentage points and Abbott up by 13 percentage points. An NBC News/Marist poll last week had a four-point spread in the Senate race and a 19-point spread in the governor’s race.

The numbers vary, but the differences are significant. That suggests that up to a sixth of the state’s voters might choose a candidate from one party in the top race on the ticket, and then switch parties when they vote for a gubernatorial candidate. That’s an awful lot of middle ground to cover.

That kind of gap was a lot more common before Texas Republicans started their unbroken winning streak in statewide elections in 1996. And ending this political cycle with a marked difference in results in the top two statewide races would also reveal something unusual in the state’s polarized electorate: Swing voters.

Browse through Texas election results from the last quarter century and gaps like this are generally small.

Donald Trump won by 9 percentage points in 2016; Wayne Christian, the next statewide Republican on the ballot, won his race for railroad commissioner by 15 points, a 6-percentage point difference.

The victory margins of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Gov. Abbott — the top Republicans in 2014 — were 3 percentage points apart. Two years earlier, Mitt Romney and Cruz each won by 16 percentage points. John McCain and Cornyn each won by 12 percentage points four years earlier. You get the idea.

Differences like those suggested by this year’s polls (remember the pollster’s incantation: “Polls are not predictions, polls are not predictions...”) are relatively rare.

One resulted from a peculiar governor’s election. In 2006, then-Gov. Rick Perry, with three big-time opponents on the general election ballot, won by 9 percentage points (with just 39 percent overall). U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison won re-election by 26 percentage points — a long way ahead of Perry. Likewise, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst won by 20 percentage points. Perry’s opponents, remember, included erstwhile Republican Carole Keeton (her ballot surname changed over the years, as her marital status did), running as an independent, and also Kinky Friedman, a singer and comic who, like Keeton, collected a respectable number of votes. It was a weird year.

Before that, the biggest gap was in 1998. Republicans swept those elections, but they didn’t have much room for comfort; it was the last truly strong finish for Texas Democrats in statewide elections. Then-Gov. George Bush coasted to reelection over Democrat Garry Mauro by 27 percentage points. But Perry won the lieutenant governor race by just 2 points, and Keeton was elected comptroller by 0.55 percentage points.

That’s what a swing state ballot looks like, with voters who split their tickets, choosing one party’s candidate in this race and another’s in that one. Look at 1994: Hutchison won by 23 percentage points, Bush by 7. Bob Bullock, a Democrat, won the lieutenant governor’s race by 23 percentage points. Down the ballot, Perry, a Republican, was winning the agriculture race by 26 percentage points.

To recap, the distance between the biggest Democratic win and the biggest Republican win was 49 percentage points.

Texans don’t seem ready to go back to that. But these early polls suggest that some of them are thinking about it.

 

                  "Analysis: Will a split Texas electorate split the 2018 ticket?" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Friday
Jun292018

U.S. Supreme Court rules Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate in drawing political maps

                By Alexa Ura

The Texas Tribune

                June 25, 2018

                Extinguishing the possibility that Texas could be placed back under federal electoral supervision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday pushed aside claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they enacted the state's congressional and state House maps. 

In a 5-4 vote, the high court upheld 10 of 11 congressional and state House districts that the maps’ challengers said intentionally undercut the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. The Supreme Court found that the evidence was "plainly insufficient" to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in "bad faith” when it enacted the districts. 

The one exception was Fort Worth-based House District 90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero and was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which keeps all but one of the state's districts in place through the end of the decade, is a major blow to the maps’ challengers — civil rights groups, voters of color and Democratic lawmakers — who have been fighting the Republican-controlled Legislature’s adjustment of district boundaries since 2011. 

That year, Republicans were forced to grapple with how to redraw the state’s political maps to account for 2010 U.S. census numbers that showed that the state’s demographics were shifting against them. Most of the state’s growth was attributable to people of color, particularly Hispanics, who are more likely to vote for Democrats. Still, lawmakers managed to redraw electoral maps to add more Republican-friendly districts, particularly in Congress where Republicans gained three surefire districts and Democrats gained just one. 

The maps lawmakers first drew in 2011 to account for that growth never actually went into effect because they were immediately tied up in litigation over claims they were unfair to voters of color. 

The current litigation focused instead on Republicans’ actions in 2013, when lawmakers adopted temporary maps that a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio had ordered up in 2012 amid legal wrangling over the 2011 maps. 

The San Antonio panel of judges at the time had warned that the interim maps — based largely on the state's original map-drawing — were meant to be temporary and that districts could still be subject to legal scrutiny. After lawmakers adopted those maps, the lower court ruled that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color in their 2011 maps and that the 2013 maps were tainted by that same discrimination in places where district boundaries were left unchanged. 

But on Monday, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court sided with the state’s lawyers who had argued that they could not have discriminated against voters of color in 2013 because they simply “embraced” maps that the lower court had deemed were okay. 

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito echoed conservatives’ remarks during oral arguments that state lawmakers had earned the presumption of good faith when they leaned on the map the lower court approved, which “gave the Legislature a sound basis” for believing that the maps were legally sound. Alito pointed to the lower court’s “careful analysis” of legal claims at play and “detailed examination” of individual districts, some of which were modified. 

“Its work was anything but slapdash,” Alito wrote. “All these facts gave the Legislature good reason to believe that the court-approved interim plans were legally sound.” 

HD 90, which the high court upheld as a racial gerrymander, was virtually the only district that lawmakers significantly readjusted in 2013. 

Alito also said the lower court “committed a fundamental legal error” when it held the 2013 Legislature liable for not curing any “unlawful intent” behind the 2011 maps. 

Even if the lower court found the 2013 Legislature acted with discriminatory intent, “the problem is that, in making that finding, it relied overwhelmingly on what it perceived to be the 2013 Legislature’s duty to show that it had purged the bad intent of its predecessor,” Alito noted. 

Joined by the court’s three other liberal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the majority’s opinion as a “disregard of both precedent and fact” in light of the “undeniable proof of intentional discrimination” against voters of color. 

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” Sotomayor wrote. “The fundamental right to vote is too precious to be disregarded in this manner.” 

In siding with the state, the Supreme Court tossed out claims of intentional vote dilution in state House districts in Nueces County and Bell County, as well as claims that Hispanic voters were “packed” into Dallas County districts to minimize their influence in surrounding districts. The high court also rejected challenges to Congressional District 27 — where the lower court said lawmakers diluted the votes of Hispanics in Nueces County — and Congressional District 35, which the lower court flagged as an impermissible racial gerrymander. 

But perhaps most significant on the voting rights front was the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state could be not be held liable for intentional discrimination of Hispanic and black voters. 

The Texas redistricting case was largely seen as a possible test case for the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the portion of the law that for decades required Texas and other states and localities to obtain the federal government’s permission to change their election laws, a safeguard for voters of color called preclearance. The Supreme Court wiped clean the list in 2013 and lifted federal oversight for Texas and other jurisdictions, noting that conditions for voters of color had "dramatically improved."

 

But the court left open the possibility that future, purposeful discrimination could mean a return to preclearance. And the lower court’s finding of intentional discrimination in the Texas redistricting case was key to efforts by advocates for voters of color to persuade the courts to put Texas back under federal oversight of its election laws.

After years of litigation, Monday’s loss in the redistricting case — coupled with failed efforts to challenge the state’s voter identification law on discriminatory grounds — nixes the possibility that the state will be placed back under preclearance.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office defended the maps in court, praised the ruling as a win for Texans who want the “power to govern themselves.”

 

"The court rightly recognized that the Constitution protects the right of Texans to draw their own legislative districts, and rejected the misguided efforts by unelected federal judges to wrest control of Texas elections from Texas voters,” he said in a statement.

 

For those challenging the maps, the ruling is a disappointing outcome to a seven-year-long legal fight that will deny voters of color fair representation.

 

“It’s difficult to reconcile this ruling with the factual findings of the court below — that voters of color were intentionally packed and cracked — and the lived experience of our clients,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who represented some of the map challengers. “Unfortunately, most voters in Texas will have to wait until the next redistricting process to get chance to have fair districts and the relief they deserve.”

 

                "U.S. Supreme Court rules Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate in drawing political maps" was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/06/25/us-supreme-ruling-court-texas-redistricting-case/ by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Tuesday
Jun052018

Changing one Texas election watch list for another

 

                By Ross Ramsey

Texas Tribune

                May 25, 2018

 Election phases can be like shampoo instructions: Lather, rinse, repeat.

Tuesday’s primary runoffs set the table for November’s general elections and also the names on the ballot in the relatively small number of districts where a Democrat could overturn a Republican or vice-versa.

Some contests are over now. In Cameron County, Alex Dominguez, a former county commissioner, upset incumbent state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville. With no Republican on the ballot, that effectively made Dominguez a future state representative.

But incumbents in districts with the potential to flip from one party to another — state Reps. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, and Paul Workman, R-Austin, to name two — now know whom they’ll face in November. Those incumbents are on political target lists — districts where the state’s legendary redistricting maps just aren’t strong enough to protect parties the mapmakers hoped to protect.

Even a great partisan map has its weak spots. Neave’s district was drawn for Republicans, but political erosion there made it possible for her to wrestle it away in the 2016 elections. Now she’s defending, and on Tuesday, Republican voters nominated business owner Deanna Metzger for the job. Greg Abbott beat Wendy Davis in that district in 2014. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in 2016, while Neave was winning her first term.

Though it’s on the Democratic target map, the Workman district is more partisan, in favor of the Republicans. Trump edged Clinton two years ago, and Abbott won handily. Like Neave, the incumbent found his November opponent in the runoff results; Workman will face real estate agent Vikki Goodwin.

Most Texas Senate races were set in the first round of the primaries in March. But in Houston, attorney Rita Lucido won a Tuesday runoff and the right to challenge state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, in November. It’s a fairly reliable Republican district, and a couple of other Republicans in the Texas Senate are probably in greater danger in the general election. However, Trump’s narrow win — less than a percentage point — and the district’s changing demographics have made optimists of some Democrats.

Three Republican congressional incumbents hold seats on Democratic wish lists and found out on Tuesday whom they will face. The most vulnerable, by the numbers, is U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, in the 23rd Congressional District. He’ll face Gina Ortiz Jones, who won easily on Tuesday, in a district where the average statewide Republican candidate won by just over 1 percentage point in 2016. It’s a true swing district.

In Dallas’ 32nd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions will face Colin Allred who, like Ortiz Jones, handily won his runoff this week. Clinton beat Trump there by less than 2 percentage points in 2016; Abbott trounced Davis by 16 percentage points in 2014 in that district. It’s a tougher challenge, at least on paper, but the Democrats are hopeful that the president will have a traditionally dismal mid-term election.

And in Houston’s 7th Congressional District, Democratic Party favorite Lizzie Pannill Fletcher dispatched Laura Moser on Tuesday, setting up a challenge to U.S. Rep. John Culberson. He’s the third of the three Texas Republicans whose voters switched sides in 2016, favoring both their Republican incumbent in Congress and the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, in the top race. But it’s generally red ground; Abbott defeated Davis in Culberson’s district by almost 22 percentage points — a little better than his statewide average.

The big setup on election night, of course, was the race for governor. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez skipped past Houston entrepreneur Andrew White, setting up a general election that pits a Democrat from the state’s biggest reliable Democratic county against an incumbent governor with a record-setting $43 million-plus campaign account. If you think of the state as a political district, think of a red one. In 2014, the average Republican running statewide beat the average Democrat by 22 percentage points; in 2016, the Republican advantage was 14 percentage points.

Even against that election history, the Valdez campaign could be advantageous to downballot Democrats. She’s well known in Dallas, where the Democrats have probably their best chances at winning back some legislative and congressional seats that belong to Republicans. And her candidacy could, if things go well, energize Hispanics — the fastest-growing group in the state’s population.

 

                This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/05/25/analysis-changing-one-texas-election-watchlist-another/.

                The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Thursday
May102018

Analysis: The next Texas House speaker will be chosen by greenhorns

                By Ross Ramsey

                May 9, 2018

The coming race for speaker of the Texas House will be decided by novices.

Most of the 150 members of the House — more than two-thirds, in fact — have never elected a new speaker. And only a half dozen of them were around the last time the race for speaker didn’t feature an incumbent.

They’ll all be experts in just a few months. House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced last October that he won’t seek a sixth term. Four members have officially joined the race to succeed him. More legislators are exploring the possibility, feeling out their colleagues — the voters — for signs of support before they jump in.

The last open race came after the 1991 session, when Speaker Gib Lewis, D-Fort Worth, decided not to run again. State Rep. Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, won a race featuring several chairmen of Lewis’ powerful committees — Appropriations, Redistricting, State Affairs, Ways & Means and Transportation.

Laney, like Lewis and now Straus, served five terms in the job, losing it after Republicans took the House majority in the 2002 elections. Laney’s successor, state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, was a three-term speaker who was upended by a bipartisan group of representatives unhappy with his governing style. There was a quick period of uncertainty in that 2009 election — after Straus had an apparent majority but before it was certain — in which other House members’ names were suggested to replace Craddick. But Straus’ support held, and it never became a free-for-all.

This time, it’s definitely a free-for-all.

The last open race — the one Laney won — was a test of loyalties and friendships and political power that, like what’s going on today, was new to most members of the House. But in that earlier case, there were 34 veteran legislators who’d been through an open race for speaker before.

This time, only six members — Craddick; Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston; John Smithee, R-Amarillo; René Oliveira, D-Brownsville; and Garnet Coleman, D-Houston — have seen a competitive open race for speaker.

A supermajority — 102 members — have never been through a real race at all, having taken their seats in the House after Straus was first elected in 2009. Straus was challenged a couple of times but never seriously threatened. The last time most House members went through something like this — a race in which the contestants know each of their voters by name and those voters’ preferences by heart — was probably in a race for class president in high school.

What they’re in for is the rawest kind of race, one in which the voters are acting on what will be best for themselves and their constituents, and one in which the candidates are barred by law from promising any rewards for support. Some of the race is visible: The public knows that the names of the four candidates who’ve filed papers are Phil King, R-Weatherford; John Zerwas, R-Richmond; Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; and Eric Johnson, D-Dallas.

A lot of it is invisible. For instance: exactly which members are quietly poking around, deciding whether to file, is unknown. The conversations between members are private — so private, in fact, that at one point in the last open race, a reasonably well-sourced reporter could see that the names of members pledged to vote for Laney, plus the number supporting Jim Rudd, D-Brownfield, or David Cain, D-Dallas, added up to more than 150.

The two-timers were so convincing that top members of Rudd’s team didn’t believe Laney had won until they saw his list of signatures. It’s a high-stakes game of liar’s poker — a dangerous adventure for 144 tenderfeet.

                 This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/05/09/analysis-next-texas-house-speaker-will-be-chosen-greenhorns/.   The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.