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Changing the Characters, but Not Their Parts

The legislative changes coming in the 2014 elections mean several current lawmakers will be replaced. But their voters, in almost all instances, are likely to stick with politicians of the same party.


Texas Democrats are hoping for a big change in state politics this year, pushing a ticket topped by Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte in a year when they hope women are riled up against the state’s Republicans.

Only two incumbents — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — are seeking re-election to statewide offices this year, guaranteeing a lot of change in the executive branch in Texas when new officeholders take their oaths in January 2015.

The change will stall after that. Voters ordered heavy turnover in the last two elections in the state Legislature, but 2014 looks mild in comparison. Some of the names will change, but the overall effect on the Legislature should be small.

Of the 31 state senators who took office in January 2013, only four are voluntarily leaving their posts, including Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who resigned a few weeks ago to accept a position with the Texas A&M University System.

A couple of others will resign in a year if they win statewide elections. Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, is running for lieutenant governor, and Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, is running for comptroller. If they lose, they will keep their Senate seats. If they win, they will be replaced in special elections.

And a few incumbent Republicans — Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, John Carona of Dallas and Kel Seliger of Amarillo — face serious challengers in their primaries.

Nine of 31 would be a lot of turnover in the Senate. But only one of the seats in question is likely to toggle from one party to the other. Tarrant County’s Senate District 10, where Davis, a Democrat, is the incumbent, could fall to the Republicans. But the other seats are likely to remain in the hands of the parties that hold them now, even if the names of the officeholders change.

Power in the Senate — at least under the current rules — revolves around a rule that prevents any legislation from coming up for consideration unless two-thirds of the senators go along. Even if the Davis seat flips, the Democrats would have enough votes to block legislation on a partisan basis. Unless the rule is changed, control of the Senate is not at stake in the 2014 elections.

One variable is on the statewide ballot. If Dewhurst is unseated, the Senate will be under new management. He faces three Republicans — all former allies — in the March primary. And the winner will face Van de Putte in the November general election. The Republican candidates in particular — Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and state Sen. Dan Patrick — are already talking about changing the two-thirds rule to give their side a supermajority. Ultimately, that will be up to the new Senate.

The House is even less likely to change in a material way. The Senate might become more conservative — several of the probable replacements for current senators are more conservative than the people they are replacing. But the House is bigger, with 150 members, and the turnover could be much smaller.

Only 13 members sworn in at the beginning of 2013 are leaving voluntarily. (One, Mark Strama, D-Austin, resigned last summer and is being replaced in a special election.) Others face challenges in this year’s elections, and many of those could lose. But few of them will lose in November. That’s a result of redistricting. Most of the state’s legislative districts were drawn to favor one party or the other. It is easier to replace a Republican with a Republican, or a Democrat with a Democrat, than to replace a candidate of one party with a candidate from the other.

The 2010 elections momentarily put a Republican supermajority in the Texas House, leaving the Democrats relatively powerless and making a bloc of conservative and moderate Republicans. That changed just enough in 2012 to leave Republicans with a stout advantage, but not a supermajority. That put the Democrats back in the game on some issues, where the ruling coalition became a mix of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

That legislative arithmetic is fixed for this election cycle and the House — barring something unexpected in this year’s elections — will probably operate in 2015 much like it did in 2013.

The Democrats are after change at the top, but the Legislature will remain solidly in Republican hands.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/03/changing-characters-not-their-parts/.

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