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Old Political Maxims Go the Way of the Pay Phone

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When Ronald W. Reagan dominated the national political scene in the 80’s, one of his familiar refrains was that all Republicans should strictly observe what he called the 11th commandment: “Never speak ill of another member of your party.” Wonder what some of our allegedly fervid religionists in the ultra-conservative movement would think of the former California governor making such a direct (and a bit irreverent) usage of religious terms? My guess would be that they would think the same thing about him if they were reminded that, yes, it was good solid conservative Republican President Reagan who championed the first increase in the federal gas tax in twenty-three years at the end of the 1982 recession.

For many years that so-called 11th principle was closely adhered to by the R’s in Texas. This may have been a natural inclination, since their numbers were quite few for many years. In fact, when Midland Republican House member Tom Craddick became the speaker in 2003, he was the first of his party to do so since 1873. Republican leadership in the Texas House and Senate nearly was zero for the 20th century. When he beat fellow Aggie John Sharp by about 80,000 votes in 1998, Rick Perry of Haskell (or its nearby hamlet, Paint Creek) was the first Republican elected to the position of Lt. Governor.

So, why is it that Republicans now are fighting in primaries just as the D’s way back in the 20th century? In part, because of the party's amazing success in the last twenty years. When the primaries for the Texas House of Representatives were held this May, thirty-seven incumbents faced intraparty challengers. One might recall that it did not seem a splendid era for incumbents. Seven fell in the primary and three of four incumbents lost in overtime (the July 31 runoff). By the way, these were all Republicans. So much for President Reagan's commandment.

On the other hand, the numbers-poor Democrats had eight of their incumbents fighting off primary foes. All the D’s won. Big deal. As a sage observer who likened the races to a football team wrote, “The only question for the Democrats would be if they are going to lose by five touchdowns or six touchdowns.” In any case, they are going to lose.

Speaker Joe Straus, R of San Antonio who ousted Speaker Craddick in 2009 easily, won his primary race. But it is a bit surprising that a candidate would challenge a sitting speaker at all. With a very solid and strong majority, Straus should easily dispatch the challenge which Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola announced a couple of months back. Two years ago, Hughes voted present and not voting on the ballot to elect Straus to his second term.

Though some of the Speaker's leadership team did suffer from the “let's kick 'em all out” theory, a few of his major detractors suffered a similar fate: Leo Berman and Wayne Christian, both East Texas ultra-conservatives and proud of it. Committee chairmen who were asked to stay home next session included Rob Eissler of the Woodlands; Sid Miller of Stephenville, Vicki Truitt of Southlake, Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, and Michael Hamilton of Lumberton. Hamilton and fellow incumbent James White were the only two House members who were paired in the final redistricting map and the rookie White, with strong support from Gov. Rick Perry, defeated the veteran Hamilton who moved his residence to run in a different district. Other incumbents who were ousted with freshmen Jim Landtroop of Plainview, Barbara Nash of Arlington, and Marva Beck of Centerville. On the opposite side of the Capitol, the Texas Senate will have at least five new faces in the thirty-one member body. Retirements include some tall timber, namely Finance Committee chairman Steve Ogden of Bryan, Education committee chairman Florence Shapiro of Plano, and two other experienced hands in chairmen Chris Harris of Arlington and Mike Jackson of Pasadena. These four voluntarily stepped down. Jackson ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat. They will each be replaced by four former House members: Charles Schwertner, MD of Georgetown (Ogden); Ken Paxton of McKinney (Shapiro); Kelly Hancock of Fort Worth (Harris), and Larry Taylor of Friendswood (Jackson). One final senate incumbent, twenty year veteran Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, was clobbered in a runoff with Dr. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels.

In the general election it is highly likely that only one senate seat will be “in play.” That will be the seat held by Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Four years ago, with help from the top of the Democratic ticket and its aspirant Barack Obama, she edged past incumbent Kenneth (Kim) Brimer. This time her foe will be soft-spoken physician Mark Shelton, a veteran of the Texas House.

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