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2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Changes will be coming

Robert Miller has a look at who we know won’t be back in the Lege for 2013. It’s a list that’s sure to get longer – I’m aware of a few more rumored retirements, and there’s already numerous primary challenges out there. In some cases, the legislative shuffling is creating openings elsewhere – first term SBOE member Marsha Farney will not run for re-election so she can pursue HD20, which is open because one-term State Rep. Charles Schwertner is running for SD05, which has been left open by Sen. Steve Ogden’s retirement. The reverse may also be true – State Rep. Dwayne Bohac in HD138 is among the throng hoping for an appointment to Jerry Eversole’s seat on Commissioners Court. Whether he gets it or not, there’s a decent chance that a current State Rep in Harris County might try to win that seat in the primary anyway. And on and on.

What this means is that I believe we are going to have at least three elections in a row with a lot of changes. 2010 was the first, 2012 is already shaping up that way, and as I have noted before, one way or another we could have a situation where there are no incumbents running for re-election to statewide non-judicial offices in 2014. That’s before taking into effect the electoral toll that may be exacted from another slash-and-burn legislative session. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, and I won’t be surprised if it continues beyond that. PDiddie and EoW have more.

Chron story about the House redistricting map

Here’s what the Chron had to say about the initial redistricting map for the State House. I’m just going to focus on a couple of things:

The statewide map creates one new Latino district, maintains the current number of black opportunity districts and pairs 16 incumbents in districts where they would face one of their colleagues in the 2012 elections.

I can understand the assertion that it’s hard to accurately reflect Texas’ rapidly changing population demographics with something like the SBOE map and its paltry 15 districts. But there are ten times as many House districts as there are SBOE districts. Surely we can do better than that.

Karen Loper, Vo’s chief of staff, said her boss saw trouble ahead in the proposed pairing with his Houston colleague who represents a neighboring district.

“We certainly have a great concern about combining two districts that are Voting Rights districts,” she said. “On the face of it, it looks like it would be a violation.”

Loper noted that both districts are an amalgamation of minority populations, including Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans, but their combined strength would be dissipated. “The Asian population goes down because they’re scattered among several districts, and so do Hispanics,” she said.

I’m not a lawyer, but it’s not clear to me that Vo’s district is a VRA-protected district. As I understand it, the current HD149 is majority non-Anglo, but no single group has a majority share of the population, and as such it doesn’t qualify for VRA protection. But in case you missed the part where I said I’m not a lawyer, don’t take my word for this. I’m sure it would come up in any litigation related to the Solomons map, if it is the basis for the final product.

On the matter of my first point, one group with an interest in seeing more Latino opportunity district has put its money where its mouth is by presenting a map of its own.

There are 30 [Latino-majority districts] now. In the proposal from the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, that would increase to 35, with new seats that represent opportunities for Latinos in the Panhandle/South Plains, in West Texas, and in Hidalgo County. Two existing seats, in Tarrant and Harris counties, would be redrawn so that Latinos make up the voting-age majority.

The task force includes the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American GI Forum, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the William C. Velasquez Institute, the La Fe Research and Education Center, and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

You can go here and select base plan H115, “MALDEF Statewide House Proposal 1”, to see their handiwork. Here’s a view of Harris County under their plan:

MALDEF map of Harris County State Rep districts

The unlabeled green district in the middle is HD148. Note that they put us back at 25 seats, and they maintain Rep. Jessica Farrar as my Representative. Their map has one more incumbent pairing than the Solomons map does, and all of theirs are R-on-R. You can see who drew the short straw for that here. I note that they keep the Scott/Torres pairing; Rep. Mike Villarreal had expressed concerns about that in the Solomons map. The Harris County seat that gets redrawn as Latino majority is HD138, but it’s only a majority at the population level; the district is 5.15% Latino by population but only 45.6% by voting age population, and likely much less than that at the CVAP level. Finally, you will be pleased to note that the infamous WilCo barbell is gone, replaced by an HD20 that still includes Burnet and Milam but is joined by a much larger (and presumably less populated) portion of northern WilCo. An open seat, HD71, is added to the existing HD52. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more maps before all is said and done. Texas Politics has more.

Gattis drops out, Ogden to run for re-election

Well, this is a surprise.

State Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, confirmed today that he is dropping out of the race to succeed Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. Ogden, who announced earlier this year that he was retiring from the Legislature, has changed course and decided to seek re-election.

Gattis was the heavy favorite to succeed Ogden in a GOP-friendly district that includes all of Williamson County and all of the Bryan-College Station area.

“With a young and growing family and a tough economic climate, my focus needs to be on them,” said Gattis, whose children are ages 6, 3 and 1. “That was a decision that my wife and I reached through a lot of prayer and consideration.”

Gattis will not seek re-election to his House seat, where at least three Republicans have been running to succeed him.

Didn’t see that one coming. Far as I can tell, Gattis didn’t have any serious competition for this seat as yet, and frankly once he was past the primary it would have been easy going, so I confess to being a little puzzled by this. Maybe he just didn’t have the fire in the belly for it. Wouldn’t be the first person this has happened to, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it. Much better to realize it now and drop out before the election than go to the trouble of winning and then decide it wasn’t what you wanted. EoW and the Trib have more.

Gattis to run for Ogden’s seat

As EoW says, this is a complete non-surprise.

State Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, has just informed supporters he is running for the Texas Senate District 5 seat being vacated by Bryan GOP powerhouse Steve Ogden.

Via a Twitter message, Gattis said: “dangattisI am a candidate for the Texas Senate! Please get involved. http://dangattis.org/ Thank You!”

His Web site and Facebook page also say he is running.

Yeah, even people who don’t follow politics knew that was coming. Gattis is sure to be the favorite, and he appears to have Ogden’s support, at least tacitly, but I feel confident that the Dems will mount a serious challenge. As noted before, the district is red but not hopeless, and as open Senate seats don’t come along that often, the opportunity cannot be missed. If the DNC really is serious about helping to turn Texas blue, here would be a fine place to pitch in.

Gattis’ now-open HD20 seat, like SD05 red but potentially competitive given the right candidate and the lack of an incumbent, should also be a hot target next year. Along with the battle to defend freshman Rep. Diana Maldonaco, who is one of our awesome TexBlog PAC candidates, Williamson County and its resurgent Democratic Party will see a lot of action next year.