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The 86th Legislature convened on January 8, 2019. Bill filing is completed. Committee hearings have begun in earnest. Last day of Session is May 27, 2019.

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



The Texas Senate’s Republican supermajority, on the bubble

                By Ross Ramsey

                April 20, 2018             

This isn’t necessarily about something that is going to happen when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes next January. But it could happen, and it’s a great peek into how political chess works. 

Texas Republicans have a 20-11 advantage in the state Senate. That’s just enough, under current Senate rules, to proceed with debate on bills even when all 11 Democrats are in opposition. That situation is the setup for the November election and for the legislative session that follows. 

If you’re with the Republicans, you’re hoping for the status quo — an election where none of the Republican seats on the ballot ends up in the hands of a Democrat. One in particular — Konni Burton of Colleyville — represents a district that, in a bad year for Republicans, could conceivably be won by a Democrat. 

If you’re with the Democrats, you’re looking at that same seat, hoping that Beverly Powell, their nominee, will become the district’s next senator. 

There’s a lot more to this than a local election, and it goes back to those rules. It takes approval from three-fifths of the senators in attendance to bring up a piece of legislation for debate. Not to pass it, just to debate it. It used to be two-thirds, but Republicans, who were short of that mark, changed the rules to three-fifths. When everyone is present, that’s 19 senators. 

That’s the setup for this strategy session. 

Say, for the sake of argument, that the Democrats win a seat. It could be Burton’s. They’re also targeting two other Republican senators, with a bit longer odds: Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas and Joan Huffman of Houston. 

A one-seat pickup would leave the Democrats one vote short of the number needed to force debate. It would also put them in position, if they could hold their own folks together, to block debate by luring one Republican to their side. 

Another way to put it: Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would have any wiggle room — a generally rotten prospect for a group since it empowers any one member to hold an issue hostage by saying, “Do it my way or lose my vote.”

If the Democrats were to win more than one seat now held by Republicans, the Texas Senate would be back in the position it was in for years — when nobody could get an issue to the floor without brokering enough of a compromise to convince a supermajority that the issue is worth hearing.

That’s been used to keep all kinds of things — not all of them partisan, by the way — from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. For a moment, think like one of the swamp creatures; sometimes, it’s safer not to vote on something controversial than it is to take a stand. The three-fifths rule provides a way to either work on a compromise or just walk away without any political bruises. 

One needn’t agree with that to appreciate its political value. 

But even a big Democratic day in November could leave crafty Republicans with some breathing room. Two Democratic senators who aren’t on the ballot this year — Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — are contemplating resignation. 

Garcia won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in a district unlikely to elect a Republican to Congress. But she said Thursday, in an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, that she won’t resign until after the Nov. 6 election. She said she’s doing that out of consideration for the voters and doesn’t want to presume what they’ll do. If she wins and then resigns, it’ll take a special election to replace her — one that would likely leave her seat in the Senate empty for the early days of the legislative session. 

Earlier this year, Uresti was convicted of several felony charges of money laundering and fraud. He’s awaiting sentencing and also has promised to appeal. He also hasn’t quit. If he does, he’ll trigger a special election of his own. If it’s late enough, he, like Garcia, could leave a seat open in the Senate during the first days of the session.  

If Democrats take enough seats in the Senate, and if Garcia and Uresti leave late enough that the Senate opens the session with one or two empty seats , Republicans will have an opportunity to front-load controversial items in the session — via gubernatorial emergency orders — and try to win approval before the Democrats fill out their own ranks. 

Remember that the ratio applies to the number of senators in the room. 

A full house is 31 senators. Empty seats change the debate threshold. Three-fifths of 30 is 18. Three-fifths of 29 is 17. 

Even if the Republicans lose a seat or two in November, empty Garcia or Uresti seats could give them a little room. A Republican governor, assuming Greg Abbott wins, could speed consideration of favored bills by naming them “emergencies.” A Senate with a Republican supermajority, however temporary, could zip them through. 

And that leaves the final piece of this extremely speculative puzzle: the election of the next speaker of the Texas House. They’d like to get their conservative priorities out of the way before Democrats gather any strength. A reluctant House could foil them. With the departure of Joe Straus, who has been a moderate obstacle on some issues the Senate likes, the House hasn’t said, through its replacement vote, whether they’ll go along with anything the Senate or the governor wants to do. 

Right now, the government’s best chess players are trying to work that out.        

                This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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



Analysis: Here's what's in play in Texas' November general elections

Sure, there are a lot of races on the ballot in November that feature both Democrats and Republicans. But some are a lot more likely to change hands than others.

Texas Tribune


Now that the first round of this election cycle is out of the way, we can talk about November.

The election moves now — runoffs notwithstanding — to battles between the major parties instead of battles within them.

What’s in play? There’s one congressional seat, and maybe a couple more, that could change flags when the major parties clash. There’s a seat in the Texas Senate, and a couple of wildcard races that will put new people in that body. And there are a dozen or so spots in the Texas House that could go to either the Democrats or the Republicans. Those races will lock down the list of voters in the first significant election of 2019 — the one for speaker of the Texas House.

The top of the ticket is stronger on the Republican side, hardly a surprising development in a state where that party has dominated politics and government for decades.

The most interesting race — which is not to say it will be the most competitive when the votes are tallied — is the one where Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is being challenged by Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke. The governor’s race isn’t set, with Democrats Lupe Valdez and Andrew White on their way to a May runoff. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will face Democrat Mike Collier in his re-election bid.

The other non-judicial statewide races — for attorney general, comptroller, and land, agriculture and railroad commissioners — all feature incumbent Republicans and largely untested Democrats. They’re like the bands trying to get attention at the South By Southwest gathering in Austin, unheralded and hoping for a break.

Texas will have eight new people in its congressional delegation, replacing the people who didn’t seek new terms this year. Recent political results favor incumbent parties in those six Republican and two Democratic districts. Three districts where incumbent Republicans are running are generally considered the most likely candidates for political changes. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes represents the state’s only true swing district — one that can be won by a candidate of either party. Two more members of Congress — John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas — are on Democratic target lists because, while they both won in 2016, they won in districts where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump.

The closest thing to a swing seat in the Texas Senate is Konni Burton’s in Tarrant County. The Colleyville Republican will face Beverly Powell in a general election that could be a test of President Donald Trump’s popularity in the sort of midterm election that often goes against a sitting president.

Two other seats could be in play soon. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat; at least two Democrats have already jumped into her replacement race. Garcia doesn’t have to leave the Senate unless she wins the congressional seat in November, but she could leave early.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was convicted on federal charges including fraud and money laundering and could face millions in fines and years in prison. Like Garcia, he isn’t on the ballot this year — but like Garcia, he’s not expected to be in the Senate when the 86th Legislature convenes next January. Candidates are lining up in that one, too.

The Texas House, which will start 2019’s business by electing a new speaker to replace Joe Straus, who isn’t seeking another term, has a dozen seats where both Democrats and Republicans have a reasonable shot at victory, depending on the political mood and the quality of the candidates on each side.

That’s not enough to flip the House majority. With 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats now, that would require a 21-vote swing. What’s more, the swings are divided between Democrats and Republicans. The state’s Democrats are hoping to pick up five to 10 seats; Republicans are hoping to hang onto their strong majority. Both are hoping to have a strong influence on the selection of the next speaker in a race where three candidates have already surfaced and more are in waiting.

One definition of a swing seat is one in which neither statewide Democrats nor statewide Republicans have been able to run away in elections. The House has a dozen where the average margin of victory in statewide races has been smaller than 10 percentage points.

Five are held by Democrats: Philip Cortez of San Antonio, Abel Herrero of Robstown, Joe Moody of El Paso, Victoria Neave of Dallas and Mary Ann Perez of Houston. Each will have a Republican opponent and, perhaps, third-party opponents in November.

Seven are held by Republicans: Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale, Tony Dale of Cedar Park, Sarah Davis of West University Place, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock, Linda Koop of Dallas and J.M. Lozano of Kingsville. Burkett gave up her seat for an unsuccessful Senate bid, and Gonzales didn’t seek another term. Both major parties have candidates in those two open seats, and the Democrats have a candidate in each of the others.

Those aren’t the only seats in play — just the obvious ones. More than 30 primary races won’t be settled until the May runoffs. A mess of seats are virtually decided since only one major party has a candidate, a list that includes four seats in the state’s congressional delegation, two in the state Senate and 53 in the House.

Everything else is theoretically up for grabs. But some are easier to reach than others.


More than 30 Texas primary races are headed to a runoff. Here’s what you need to know.

Texas Tribune

By Alex Samuels

March 8, 2018


               While the March 6 Texas primary elections may be over, several races still don’t have a clear winner. So what happens now? 

Welcome to the runoffs. 

We’ve compiled an overview of what it takes for a race to end up in a runoff, some of the upcoming primary runoff races and how Texas voters can learn more about the 2018 candidates and races. 

What sends a primary election to a runoff?

If no candidate in a primary receives at least 50 percent of the votes plus at least one additional vote, the top two vote-getters go head-to-head in a runoff election. For 2018, primary runoffs are scheduled for May 22. 

Are there runoffs in general elections?

No. There's no required 50 percent threshold for a candidate to win a general election race, which means the candidate who gets the most votes wins. 

When is the voting period for the runoff?

Early voting for the primary runoffs will take place from May 14 through May 18. Election Day is May 22. 

Why are runoffs so much later than the primaries?

After the primary, the secretary of state’s office has up to 30 days to certify the votes. 

Under the Texas Election Code, runoff elections can't be held earlier than the 20th or later than the 45th day after the final canvass of the primary votes is completed. 

So, in which 2018 primary races will there be a runoff?

According to the latest election results from the secretary of state’s website, more than 30 races are headed to the primary runoffs. Here are some of the ones to watch at the state level: 

Primary for governor —Democrats Lupe Valdez and Andrew White

House District 46 — Democrats Sheryl Cole and Jose "Chito" Vela

House District 8 — Republicans Thomas McNutt and Cody Harris

House District 121 — Republicans Matt Beebe and Steve Allison

House District 54 — Republicans Scott Cosper and Brad Buckley


On the congressional side, six Republicans and two Democrats in the 38-member Texas congressional delegation opted not to run for re-election, which led to some packed races to replace them. The most crowded included 18 Republicans and four Democrats running for the seat U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, has held for more than 30 years. 

The congressional races headed to runoffs include five of the eight open-seat congressional primary races:  

 2nd Congressional District — Republicans Kevin Roberts and Dan Crenshaw

5th Congressional District — Republicans Lance Gooden and Bunni Pounds

6th Congressional District — Republicans Ron Wright and Jake Ellzey; Democrats Ruby Faye Woolridge and Jana Lynne Sanchez

21st Congressional District — Republicans Chip Roy and Matt McCall; Democrats Mary Street Wilson and Joseph Kopser

27th Congressional District — Republicans Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud; Democrats Raul (Roy) Barrera and Eric Holguin


How do I know if I’m eligible to vote in one of the runoff elections?

If you voted in a party primary, you're eligible to vote in that primary's runoff. According to the Texas Election Code, if you haven't affiliated with a particular party during the same voting year — by either participating in a party’s primary or convention — you can vote in any party’s primary runoff election as long as you're registered to vote for that race, according to the Texas Election Code. 

“So if, for example, a voter who participated in the Democratic primary wants to vote in a Republican primary runoff, he or she will not be accepted to vote in that Republican primary runoff race,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State's Office. 

If you voted in your party’s primary and choose to vote in the runoff elections, you don’t need to re-register to vote, Taylor said. 

What does turnout typically look like for primary runoff elections?

Voter turnout in Texas is historically underwhelming (just 16 percent of the eligible voting population cast a ballot in Tuesday's primaries). If history is any guide, May primary runoff turnout will be low. 

In 2012, roughly 11 percent of registered Republicans voted in their party’s primary compared to 4.5 percent of Democrats. When it comes to voting numbers, typically half of the number of voters who cast a ballot in the primaries will show up to a runoff, according to the secretary of state’s website.  

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



Here's what happened in the 2018 Texas primaries

Texas Tribune

By Cassandra Pollock

March 7, 2018

                As polls opened in the Texas primaries on Tuesday, The Texas Tribune laid out seven key questions for election night. Now that the smoke is clearing, here are the answers: 

Did more Texas Democrats vote than Republicans?

In short: No. 

Before Election Day, a snapshot of the 10 counties in Texas with the highest number of registered voters showed motivated Democrats casting ballots early. But totals in the primaries for U.S. Senate told a different story: More than 1.5 million people voted in the Republican primary, with close to 100 percent reporting, compared to about 1 million Democrats, also with near 100 percent reporting.  

Gov. Greg Abbott tried to unseat three Republican incumbents. How did they do?

State Reps. Sarah Davis of West University Place and Lyle Larson of San Antonio are one step closer to returning to the Texas House in 2019 — despite Abbott making an extraordinary effort to unseat them. Both Republicans won their primaries Tuesday night but face general election challengers. 

But the governor did prevail in one race: Abbott-backed Mayes Middleton unseated state Rep. Wayne Faircloth of Galveston on Tuesday, edging out the incumbent by roughly 15 percentage points. 

Abbott went to particularly great lengths to unseat Davis, dumping around a quarter million of his own dollars on the race. Davis led Susanna Dokupil by more than 10 percentage points with almost all precincts reporting Tuesday night. 

The governor’s 1-for-3 record — and Davis’ explicit shots at Abbott during her victory speech — could color the next legislative session in 2019. 

What happened in Texas' 7th Congressional District?

Laura Moser secured a slot in the party’s primary runoff on Tuesday, despite rare attempts by national Democrats to end her bid over concerns she is too liberal for the district. 

Moser, a journalist and activist, will face attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in the May 22 runoff — which will likely be a brutal intra-party fight and could divide west Houston and the national Democratic Party. 

Fletcher led the crowded Democratic field on Tuesday with 30 percent of the vote, and Moser placed second with 24 percent. 

Whoever makes it out of the runoff will face U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, in the fall. This race is one of three in Texas that Democrats are expected to target in hopes of gaining a majority in the U.S. House in 2019. 

Democratic primary candidate for the 7th Congressional District Laura Moser cheers with supporters at a watch party in Houston in Houston on Mar. 6, 2018.  

 What happened with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush's re-election bid?

Land Commissioner George P. Bush took a giant step toward serving a second term Tuesday night, winning outright a four-way Republican primary race for the statewide office. 

Bush — who kept a low profile during the campaign — raked in nearly 58 percent of the vote with around 93 percent of precincts reporting, avoiding a runoff against his predecessor, Jerry Patterson. Patterson came in second with around 30 percent of the vote, with Davey Edwards and Rick Range coming in third and fourth place, respectively. 

Bush, the nephew of President George W. Bush and son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will face Democrat Miguel Suazo in a November general election that’s not expected to be competitive. 

How many primaries for Texas' eight open congressional seats will have to be settled in runoffs?

Five of the eight open-seat congressional primary races are headed to runoffs. The other three were decided Tuesday night. 

State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, easily won the nomination to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Richardson, and is expected to win the seat in November’s general election.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, also won her party’s nomination Tuesday for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, placing her on track to win in the fall.

Veronica Escobar edged out other Democrats in a crowded race for the seat currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, who is leaving to run for the U.S. Senate.

Here’s who’s set for a one-on-one matchup in the remaining races: 

2nd Congressional District — Republicans Kevin Roberts, a Houston state representative, and Dan Crenshaw

5th Congressional District — Republicans Lance Gooden and Bunni Pounds

6th Congressional District — Republicans Ron Wright and Jake Ellzey

21st Congressional District — Republicans Chip Roy and Matt McCall

27th Congressional District — Republicans Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud

Who came out on top in the expensive North Texas primary battle between Phillip Huffines and Angela Paxton?

Paxton beat Huffines on Tuesday by about 10 percentage points in their race for an open state Senate seat. 

The contest between Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Huffines, twin brother of state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, was the most expensive primary for a state office this year. 

Which Democrat is going to run against Abbott?

Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, and Andrew White, son of late Gov. Mark White, will duke it out this spring over who will be on the November ballot against Abbott. 

Both Valdez and White have long been considered likely frontrunners for the nomination. The two stayed far ahead of the other seven Democrats who had lined up to challenge Abbott on Tuesday night, with Valdez leading with around 42 percent and White placing second with roughly 28 percent. 

Whoever wins the May 22 runoff will face an uphill climb in their efforts to unseat Abbott. He’s the most popular statewide elected official, and he has $41 million in the bank for his re-election bid. 

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