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Primaries Set For Post-Memorial Day (Maybe)

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Judge Ed Emmett and Lawrence Olsen

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Lawrence Olsen discuss the history of Harris County at the Houston February Luncheon

When your faithful correspondent last reported six weeks ago, those who wanted to be elected or reelected to the Congressional delegation or to the Texas Legislature had April 3 circled in red on their calendars as E (Election Day). Well, the Texas political globe has been spinning on its axis almost continuously since that time.

Now, gaining the most attention for an election date is May 29 (the Tuesday after Memorial Day). Democrats like that day because it's Jack Kennedy's birthday; Republicans find solace in that is also the day their soul mate, entertainer Bob Hope (not a President, but usually more popular) was born.

None of this, as the cliché goes, is written in stone. The Republicans are keen that the primary be sooner rather than later for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is despite the fact that the favorite-son candidacy of Texas Governor Rick Perry is no longer viable, the party stalwarts still want their voters to have a voice in picking the nominee. On the heels of the Michigan GOP Primary, it seems to be a two-man race between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

The second reason is a bit more pedestrian, but the GOP has put down a large chunk of change to rent 18,000 hotel rooms in the Fort Worth environs for a state GOP convention set for late June. This is the how the GOP (and the Democrats) select their delegates to attend the national conventions at the end of the summer. But the reader of this conjecture will know long before this article hits newsstands and post offices whether the waning days of spring will see Texas make their electoral choices.

Before Leap Day, only the map for the thirty-one members of the Texas Senate had been agreed on by all parties. The Republicans outnumber the Democrats in this chamber nineteen to twelve. The remap contemplates that all those districts will again be represented by the same parties in the next session, with the exception of SD 10, now held by Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Four years ago Mrs. Davis, a former City Council member, ousted incumbent Kim Brimer-R by a few thousand votes in a very bitter contest. This cycle she will face State Representative Mark Shelton, a medical doctor. Mrs. Davis is an attorney. Most consider the race to be a toss-up.

When the US Supreme Court unanimously granted Attorney General Greg Abbott's request to block the primary being conducted under previous maps drawn by a three-judge federal panel sitting in San Antonio, it was suggested that the lower panel seek an accommodation between the warring parties to draw maps for this year's elections. Despite repeated admonitions to the lawyers for the attorney general (representing the state) and plaintiffs (mostly minority and civil rights organizations), opposing sides had substantial difficulty compromising on new maps.

But compromise they finally did on February 29. The Texas Congressional delegation map increases to thirty-six from thirtytwo due to the state's explosive growth. Veteran Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) will lose his Democratic-based district for a largely Republican one, to his disappointment. However, Doggett immediately announced he would file to run in the new district, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio.


Johnny Weisman and Elizabeth Weisman of Hunter Indsutries greet Attorney General Greg Abbott at the Public Affairs Meeting

The 150-member Texas House of Representatives map has very little to show in terms of contention among incumbents. While there are a few pairings, none have much potential for good political theater and will likely be resolved amicably by the retirement or moving of one incumbent. The GOP now controls the Texas House by a 101-49 margin and the Congressional delegation by a 23-9 edge.

What's at stake? Four sitting state senators are not seeking reelection. Steve Ogden of Bryan heads the most powerful committee in the senate, the Finance Committee. He has been a member since 1997. Florence Shapiro of Plano leads the Education Committee; she has been in the senate since 1993. Chris Harris of Arlington has chaired several key committees during his tenure, which began in 1991, and Mike Jackson of La Porte last session led the Committee on Economic Development. He has been a senator since 1999. Unlike his fellow Republicans (all those leaving are of that persuasion), Senator Jackson is running for an open Congressional seat whereas his colleagues will join the private sector.

After the primaries and runoffs are done, the lieutenant governor will have the opportunity to replace these key chairmen and give the new gavel wielders an opportunity to bone up on the critical issues facing the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature. Among those vying to replace this seventy-two years in senate seniority are several current house members. In the Ogden district, State Representative Charles Schwertner, a doctor from Georgetown, will face off against Ben Bius of Huntsville. State Representative Ken Paxton of McKinney seems to have the inside track to the Shapiro seat. Similarly, Representative Larry Taylor, leader of the House Republican caucus, is leading in contributions for the Jackson seat. And to succeed Chris Harris, two Metroplex house members are squaring off: Kelly Hancock of Fort Worth, a three termer, against freshman Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie.

Certainly all of these new members will serve with distinction, but the institutional knowledge and expertise represented by the retirees will certainly be missed.

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