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A Program (with Pictures) Needed to Watch the New Texas House

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When the 83rd edition of the Texas House of Representatives was gaveled to order January 8, observers required a roster with photos to identify the forty-one rookies being sworn in. It's the biggest crop of freshmen members in a while, and combined with those elected to second terms this cycle, the One-Term-and-Less Gang makes up almost 50% of the 150 members.

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Job Abrams and Rep Joe Pickett discuss the upcoming session at the El Paso area meeting.

Three other members are recycled—that is, they all beat incumbents in 2012 but were each beaten two years prior. As Yogi Berra might say it is “Deja vu all over again.” The first is Chris Turner of Arlington, who won in an unusually drawn district that could only be won by an Anglo Democrat, (which he is). Turner ousted Rep. Bill Zedler in 2008 (a presidential year, meaningfully) and Zedler turned the tables on him in 2010. This go-round, Turner won an open seat and had to beat fellow Democrat Paula Pierson in a primary before easily beating a general election foe.

Secondly, in El Paso, Republican freshman Dee Margo, appointed by Speaker Joe Straus to the prestigious Appropriations Committee, was ousted by Democrat Joe Moody. Same story here, Mountain Time Zone version: Moody, with the big boost from the top of the ticket, beat Margo in 2008. In 2010, Margo whipped Moody and, now back to square one, the El Paso delegation has no Republicans.

MarisaMarquesandNaomiGonzales
Representatives Marisa Marques and Naomi Gonzales from El Paso.

The third incumbent knocked off in the general election was Corpus Christi Republican freshman Connie Scott. Two years earlier she had successfully challenged incumbent Abel Herrero. In 2012, Herrero beat Scott. Despite the fact that President Obama ran about two points behind the lackluster 44% he garnered while losing Texas to Senator John McCain in 2008, there was at least enough of an uptick in the Hispanic Democratic vote to aid the victories of Reps. Moody and Herrero.

There's been a good deal of press speculation in the post-election musings about how soon the growing Hispanic voting strength in Texas will make Democrats competitive on a statewide basis. Most observers have concluded the answer is “no time soon.” Republicans proudly point to the election of Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, elected in 2010 as a Democrat but switched parties, beat two longtime GOP players in the primary, and then resisted former Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, a Democrat, in November. In addition, another Hispanic Republican won an open seat in the Dallas area, Jason Villalba. But the rising star that the Republicans proudly point to is George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Young attorney Bush, thirty-six, has announced that he will make the race for state land commissioner in 2014.

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Senator Hegar visits with Quint Seal and Houston Area Meeting

Current Commissioner Jerry Patterson has declared that he will be a candidate for Lt. Governor in 2014. David Dewhurst, Lt. Governor since 2003, has told the press that he will make a decision on his political future after the 83rd Legislature concludes. This is similar to the statement by Gov. Rick Perry about his future political plans. Gov. Perry has served in his current capacity since December 2000 and surpassed the previous longevity record holder for a Texas governor (the late William P. Clements) by fifty percent. It is clear that Republicans in Texas will not concede the growing Hispanic vote to the Democrats and this continues a tradition carried by Sen. John G. Tower and most especially President George W. Bush.

Longevity Will Be Missed in State Senate
Speaking of experienced hands in state government, the thirtyone member state senate in January christened the new ship with several veteran top sailors among the missing. And the metaphor is apt because one of those diligent in guiding the ship of state over the last few years was a former submarine naval officer, Steve Ogden of Bryan. He led the Senate Finance Committee through some fiscal turbulence. In addition to Mr. Ogden, also departing are Florence Shapiro of Plano, a longtime leader in public education; Chris Harris, an Arlington attorney and committee chairman; and fellow committee chairman Mike Jackson of La Porte. All four stepped down voluntarily, but only Jackson vacated to run for new office: a new Congressional seat eventually won by Steve Stockman. Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio lost handily in a runoff to Donna Campbell, an emergency room physician who lives in New Braunfels and practices medicine in Columbus. In 2010, she lost a fairly close race to U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat who Republican mapmakers have been trying to erase for years.

The sixth new member of the Senate is yet to be determined. Veteran Democrat Mario Gallegos of Houston died in October. His name remained on the ballot (his death coming after the deadline to change the nominee) and he won over a nominal (29%) Republican challenge. Gov. Perry will call a special election to fill this vacancy. Thus far, Republican R. W. Bray has said he will run again and two Democrats have declared: State Rep. Carol Alvarado and former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. Odds favor this remaining a Democratic seat but certainly stranger things have happened.

If the D’s retain the Gallegos seat, the Republicans will hold a nineteen-twelve margin in the State Senate. So the Republicans can do whatever they want, right? Not so fast. Current Senate rules state that no bill can be considered (out of the so-called regular order) unless two-thirds of those in attendance say that it can: translation, you gotta have twenty-one votes to pass a bill. Six years ago rookie Senator Dan Patrick wanted to change the so-called two-thirds rule, and when the vote was taken it was one (Patrick) for the change and thirty against. Now, Senator Patrick is Chairman Patrick, named this fall by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to head the Public Education Committee.

Other key committee chairmen in the 83rd session will be Tommy Williams of the Woodlands chairing the vital Senate Finance Committee and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville to head the Senate Transportation Committee.

So, with the backdrop of all this new blood and new leadership roles, fasten your seat belts for a rollicking 140 days, with the final whistle May 27.



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