BIGGEST TURNOVER IN STATE SENATE IN A GENERATION

Written by  Lawrence Olsen, Executive Vice President, Texas Good Roads

When Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst* gaveled the Texas Senate on Jan 13 to begin the 84th session of the legislature, there were eight new senators in the assemblage. At the time of this writing, a ninth new senator will join them in the near future, with the completion of a runoff between two San Antonio Democratic state representatives. The duo, Trey Martinez- Fischer and Jose Menendez , are vying for the Senate which will be relinquished by veteran Leticia Van de Putte. Van de Putte, a fixture in the senate since 1999, is quitting to run for the soon-to-be vacant Mayor’s place in the Alamo City. In the 68th session which convened in 1983, there were 10 new senators (there are 31 members of the senate, but the session following a once a decade census and map redrawing, usually accounts for a higher turnover in the senate).

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Lawrence Olsen and Z.T. Burkett at the 90th Anniversary Celebration

But 2014 was an unusual year in Texas politics. Much, if not all, was caused by Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to leave the Governor’s mansion after a record-setting tenure. When Lt. Gov. Perry assumed the governorship on Dec. 21, 2000 (following the resignation of Governor George W. Bush who was readying for another, but larger, government-type residence), probably no one--including the new Governor- -envisioned that he would remain in that august office until 2015. Heck, children born at the beginning of the Perry Administration are now in high school.

Perry’s tenure as Texas governor was three years longer than FDR was in the White House. The state political picture became a game of musical chairs after Gov. Perry decided to move on. First, Attorney General Greg Abbott, elected in 2002, declared for governor; he already had a ton of money in the political piggy bank and many of Perry’s money folks in his corner. One GOP candidate, longtime party activist Tom Pauken, tested the waters for a while, found them way too hot and backed out. So Abbott had a clear run in the primary.

With Abbott’s post as the state’s chief lawyer up for grabs, brand new state senator Ken Paxton of GOP vote-rich Collin County jumped into that race. He easily brushed aside a more traditional Republican, State Rep Dan Branch of Dallas. When Paxton was a House member, he had undertaken a campaign to unseat Speaker Joe Straus, a longtime political ally and close personal friend of Branch. Paxton threw in the towel on his Speaker’s campaign and then won the senate seat in a cake walk after Florence Shapiro declined another term. Like Abbott and every other statewide Republican candidate, Paxton sailed to a 20-point victory in November over yet another Democrat whose name will be lost to history in very short order.

Paxton’s fellow Republican Senator Glenn Hegar saw an opportunity for statewide office when State Comptroller Susan Combs decided to retire. Hegar beat St. Rep. Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville and that created another open senate seat.

The biggest leap in the Senate was taken by Houston Senator Dan Patrick, a very conservative individualist in an already conservative body. His target was his boss in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Obviously Dewhurst was a severely wounded political warrior when he fell to challenger Ted Cruz in the 2012 battle for the U. S. Senate seat held for 20 years by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Dewhurst blew an 11 point lead after the first runoff. But in 2014 the situation flip-flopped and Patrick had a comfortable lead over Dewhurst, Ag Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. He easily dispatched the incumbent Lt. Gov. in the runoff. So, now Patrick’s senate seat is open.

But the siren call for higher office did not only apply to the majority Republicans. A couple of Democratic senators also gazed upon greener pastures. Catapulted in the national spotlight during her 13 hour filibuster against what she deemed restrictive abortion legislation, Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis went for the brass ring (Governor’s office). Alas, her early sheen seemed to wear away as the long campaign went on and she finished five points under what Democratic governor 2010 candidate Bill White (Mr. Bland, as he was called by his friends) and garnered about 38 percent of Texas voters. Thus, Senator Davis was not to return to the senate as her term expired, as well. Her unofficial running mate (Texas, unlike some other states, do not run in slates) was Senator Van de Putte in the battle against fellow Senator Patrick for Lt. Governor. After her loss, she has chosen to leave the Senate to run for the municipal post. Thus, add two more seats to the open category.

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Lawrence Olsen, Bill Hale, Bob and Pam Lanham, and Katy

Bohuslav at the Houston Area Luncheon

Two other veteran Republicans were successfully attacked as being too liberal and lost their primaries to candidates who proudly claimed alliance to Tea Party values. Those veterans were John Carona of Dallas and Bob Deuell of Greenville, both committee chairmen.

Another pair of old pros decided to resign to pursue other lines of work. And that was Tommy Williams of the Woodlands and Bob Duncan of Lubbock. These two Republicans both opted for academia: Williams as director of government relations for the Texas A&M University System and Duncan as Chancellor of Texas Tech University. Last session Williams had chaired the vital Senate Finance Committee and Duncan, the State Affairs Committee. Duncan was elected to the Senate in 1997 and Williams in 2003.

So that’s how we got to eight and one-half new senators in the 84th session. And who are the newcomers? In alphabetical order:

Paul Bettencourt succeeds his political ally Dan Patrick in Harris County’s District 7. For 10 years, this Aggie businessman was the County’s Tax-Assessor Collector and was a leader in the local Republican Party.

Konni Burton prevailed over a Democrat in SD 10, formerly held by D Wendy Davis. This is the only party gain in the Senate and SD 10 is believed by most to be the only “swing” district statewide. In 2006, Davis unseated Republican incumbent Kim Brimer. Burton, an activist with the Tea Party faction of the Tarrant County Republican party, won this past November with 53 percent.

Brandon Creighton of Conroe is an attorney and land developer and his family has deep roots in Montgomery County. The UT grad was elected to the Texas House in 2006 and he won a special election after Tommy Williams resigned.

Bob Hall is retired and lives in Edgewood (Van Zandt County); according to press reports, he has lived in Texas less than a decade and was a previous Florida resident. Two years ago he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress against Ralph Hall.

Don Huffhines upset John Carona in one the most expensive primary races ever run for the Texas State Senate. Both candidates have personal wealth. Huffhines is from a prominent, well known North Texas family which has had automobile and banking interests, among others. His halfbrother James Huffhines was a key aide to Gov. William P. Clements and later served on the UT Board of Regents.

Lois Kolkhorst, a member of the Texas House for seven terms, recently won a special election to replace Sen. Glenn Hegar in Dist 18. Kolkhorst lives in Brenham and was an expert on health issues in the House. She is a TCU grad and received a golf scholarship.

Charles Perry, a CPA and land developer, defeated longtime House incumbent Delwin Jones in 2010. He won a special election to replace Bob Duncan, now Texas Tech Chancellor.

Van Taylor of Plano was elected to the Texas House in 2010. He is a decorated military veteran and an A&M graduate. After Ken Paxton vacated this seat, Taylor had no opponent in the Republican primary.

And lastly, Reps. Trey Martinez-Fischer and Jose Menendez are in the runoff to succeed Leticia Van de Putte. In the initial runoff, attorney Martinez-Fischer led Menedez by about 20 percent in a five person field.

*The Senate (and the House) convened Jan. 13; the new governor (Abbott) and lieutenant governor were both sworn in Jan. 20. Speaker Straus was reelected to his fourth term, 127-19.



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