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John Ratcliffe

Six file in SD30

One of these folks will be a State Senator.

Sen. Pat Fallon

The most prominent contenders for the solidly red seat are state Rep. Drew Springer of Muenster and fellow Republican Shelley Luther,the Dallas salon owner who was jailed earlier this year over her refusal to close her business due to the coronavirus pandemic. Both Springer and Luther had announced their campaigns ahead of Friday’s filing deadline.

Here are the four other candidates who filed to compete in the Sept. 29 special election:

  • Republican Craig Carter, who ran against Fallon in the 2018 primary for the state Senate seat and got 15% in the three-way contest
  • Republican Andy Hopper, a Decatur engineer and member of the Texas State Guard
  • Democrat Jacob Minter, recording secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 20
  • Republican Chris Watts, mayor of Denton

The special election is happening because Fallon is poised to join Congress after party insiders picked him earlier this month to replace former U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, on the November ballot. Fallon is likely to win the general election because the congressional district is overwhelmingly Republican.

See here for the background. It’s nice to see a Democrat in the race, but as I said before this is a super-red district, so keep your expectations very modest. Early voting begins September 14, and Election Day is September 29. Rep. Springer has the support of outgoing Sen. Fallon and a significant portion of the Republican House cancus, but expect this to go to a runoff anyway.

Special election set for SD30

Can’t wait till November, apparently.

Sen. Pat Fallon

Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday announced the special election to replace state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, will be Sept. 29, setting off a sped-up race to fill his seat ahead of the next legislative session now that he is likely headed to Congress.

Minutes after Abbott’s announcement, state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, announced his campaign for the safely red seat in Senate District 30. Springer also said he had Fallon’s endorsement.

“I bring my conservative record & hard work to the race, along with a life of being raised, educated, & working in SD30,” Springer tweeted.

The filing deadline for the special election will be less than a week away — Friday — and early voting begins Sept. 14, according to Abbott’s proclamation.

Abbott invoked what is known as an “emergency special election” to schedule the contest on a tighter timeline than usual. He cited the need for SD-30 to have representation when the Legislature returns in January, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

[…]

The timing of the special election had been up in the air in recent days because Fallon had not vacated the seat yet and said as recently as Wednesday he was still figuring out when to give it up. Fallon ended up resigning in a letter to Abbott dated Saturday, saying the resignation would be effective at midnight Jan. 4.

The winner of the special election will finish Fallon’s term, which goes until January 2023.

I mean, okay, sure, but I can’t help but feel a little bitter about the nickel-and-dime treatment Abbott gave Sylvia Garcia’s resignation, in July of 2018. He did eventually set a short date for a special election when Garcia resigned again, with language that wasn’t nitpick-able. Maybe I’m making too big a deal over something that was ultimately more petty than meaningful, but here I am anyway.

In the meantime, Rep. Springer’s main opponent will be this person.

Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner who was jailed over reopening her business amid the coronavirus pandemic, said Saturday that she is running for Texas Senate.

Luther, who lives in Denton County, had been considering a run to replace state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, in a yet-to-be-called special election now that he is poised to head to Congress.

“You better bet I’m putting my hat in the ring,” Luther said during a “Back the Blue” rally supporting law enforcement in Denton County.

[…]

At the rally, Luther touted herself to a cheering crowd as someone who would “stand up and go to jail for you,” saying she would “do it again and again because I’m gonna fight to keep our Texas values.” She made the remarks in a video from the rally posted to her Twitter account.

Earlier this month, county and precinct chairs picked Fallon to replace former U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, on the fall ballot now that Ratcliffe is the director of national intelligence. While there is a Democratic nominee, Russell Foster, Fallon is likely to win in November because the congressional district is overwhelmingly Republican.

The special election to finish Fallon’s term in safely red Senate District 30 has not been set yet — and it cannot be scheduled until he vacates the seat. He could do that automatically by taking office in January as a congressman or by resigning early.

Fallon said Wednesday he is still figuring out when to vacate the seat but that he was intent on ensuring there is “not gonna be a gap where there’s no senator.”

See here for the background. Denton Mayor Chris Watts is also a potential candidates for this race. There may be a Democrat at some point, but this is a district that voted 72% for Ted Cruz in 2018, so don’t expect much. We’re rooting for the least worst Republican here, and who that is may be hard to tell at a glance. Shelley Luther has a lot of notoriety and a fine grasp of the kind of blonde-suburban-lady grievance politics that elevated another blonde lady named Shelley to prominence some years ago. Stock up on the Maalox now, you’re going to need it.

Most likely, the timing of this special election to some extent takes care of any concerns Republicans may have about the House being down a member if Springer wins and there needs to be a special to replace him. You can probably have a runoff for this seat by early November, and thus a special for Springer’s House seat in December, with a runoff in January. Still could possibly get dicey if there’s a tight Speaker’s race, but one can only do so much. The set of circumstances where this all matters is fairly limited, though if it does matter it will matter a lot. We’ll see how it goes.

Fallon fallout

Of interest.

Sen. Pat Fallon

After Sen. Pat Fallon’s impressive though not unexpected victory this weekend in the insider’s race to be the GOP nominee for Congressional District 4 – being vacated by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe – rumors are flying and announcements are expected quickly in the coming race to succeed him in the Texas Senate.

If the early buzz is any indication, it’ll perhaps be more of a rural versus suburban fight than a “conservative versus moderate” one.

But there are other fault lines developing and there’s some chatter about whether House members considering a promotion could put the GOP House majority at risk when it comes time to vote for a new speaker.

This is a Quorum Report story, so the rest is behind their paywall, but what I quoted is what you need to know. Fallon, who became the Republican nominee for CD04 over the weekend and is sure to win in November in this deep red district, has not yet said when he plans to resign from the Senate. There could be a special election in SD30 in November if he steps down in the next week or two, but after that it will be post-November. As you may recall from 2018, the SD06 special election was held on December 11th following now-Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s resignation from the Senate, which came after she was officially elected in CD29. That’s one path Fallon could follow, but the complications set in if the winner of the SD30 special election is a sitting member of the State House, because then there would have to be a special election for that seat. Again, going back to 2018, the special election in HD145 that was necessitated after now-Sen. Carol Alvarado won that race was held on January 29, with a runoff on March 5.

So what? Well, as the QR story suggests, we could have a very closely divided House this session. Indeed, it could wind up being 75-75, which would surely make for an entertaining Speaker’s race. But then remember the SD30 special election, in which an elected State House member moved up to that chamber. Now all of a sudden it’s 75-74 in favor of the Dems, and you have a whole new ballgame. And remember, it’s quite common for a newly-elected veteran member of the House to resign following the November election. That also happened in 2018, when Joe Pickett resigned, citing health concerns. It’s not out of the question that a 76-74 GOP majority turns into a 74-74 tie with the SD30 election and some unexpected retirement throwing a spanner into the works. Crazy things do happen.

Another potential chaos factor: Carol Alvarado won the SD06 special in 2018 in the first round, which allowed the HD145 special to take place when it did. If there had needed to be a runoff, it would have happened in late January instead of the HD145 special. But if that had been the case, Alvarado would have still been in her House seat. What that means is that if there’s a runoff in SD30, the Republicans might not actually be down a seat at the time that a Speaker is chosen, but would be later on, possibly stretching into April. They’d have a Speaker but they might not have a functional House majority, especially if the Speaker continues the tradition of not voting on most bills. (And of course, on any given day, some number of members will be absent.) Again, the potential for Weird Shit to happen is non-trivial.

This is ultimately why Rep. Eddie Rodriguez made the decision to withdraw from the SD14 special election runoff, to ensure that his seat was occupied in January. Would every State House member whose district overlaps with SD30 make the same selfless decision if the GOP doesn’t have a clear majority in the lower chamber? That’s the $64,000 question. Of course, there would need to be a non-legislative candidate to rally around. There are many variables, is what I’m saying.

Anyway. This is super inside baseball, but this is also the kind of year where these esoteric considerations need to be taken seriously. I will of course be keeping an eye on this.

Rep. Will Hurd to step down

Wow. I did not see this coming.

Rep. Will Hurd

The U.S. House’s last black Republican member, Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, announced Thursday that he is retiring from Congress. President Donald Trump’s racist comments about elected officials weighed heavily on Hurd, who has often spoken out against the rhetoric.

In announcing his resignation on Twitter, he alluded to future plans, but provided no specifics.

“I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” he wrote.

It was unclear as the news broke whether or not state or national Republicans have a back-up plan for a candidate in this district. Several state and national Republican operatives reached out to the Tribune to react to the news. Nearly all of the commentary involved highly explicit language.

It is apparent that this reelection would have been difficult.

Veteran Gina Ortiz Jones nearly defeated Hurd last cycle, and Democrats were emphatic that they would put all of their muscle in helping her capture this district, which has become something of a white whale for the party.

Emphasis mine. I’d feel sorry for those SOBs if they deserved any sympathy, but they don’t. I do however have an idea of why they’re so upset, and it’s because they’re in the same state I am, which is caught off guard. I mean, earlier that same day came this Politico piece about potential Republican retirements, and well, see for yourself:

Among those on the retirement watch list include older members, like Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Don Young of Alaska; moderates, like Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon; lawmakers facing tougher races, like Texans Michael McCaul and Kenny Marchant, and Ann Wagner of Missouri; and the two members under indictment, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.

History suggests that an uptick in retirements is common for the minority party after a shift in power. More than a dozen House Democrats left Congress after the 2010 tea party wave that swept Republicans back to power — and seven House Republicans have already announced their departures from politics, just seven months into the cycle.

“Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more coming,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports centrist Republicans in swing districts.

The pile-up of retirements could complicate the GOP’s path back to the majority after a bruising midterm election. Almost immediately after Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) announced he would not seek reelection last week, election forecasters shifted the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”

Olson, who came to Congress in 2009, would have faced a competitive reelection battle in his district in the Houston suburbs, where he just narrowly fended off a Democratic challenger last year. And Democrats are dumping resources into Texas this cycle, hoping to build on their gains in the midterms.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state. Republicans know it,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. “We wouldn’t be surprised if there were more retirements because Republicans know their 2020 prospects in Texas are doomed.”

I guarantee you, if there had been any whispers of Hurd hitting the exit, it would have been in that story. This was a bolt from the blue, and it had to have left a mark. Good. Also, too, if McCaul and Marchant drop out, the Republicans are really in a world of hurt.

As for Dem opposition in CD23, Gina Ortiz Jones is off to a fast start in fundraising. She has two opponents in the primary so far, though only Rosey Aburabara looks like a serious challenger. I don’t expect anyone else with any heft to get in on the Dem side. I have no idea who might get in on the Republican side, but my best guess would be someone from the Bexar County part of the district.

One more thing:

Because I love you all, I can and will tell you that the others are:

Ted Poe (CD02)
Sam Johnson (CD03)
Jeb Hensarling (CD05)
Joe Barton (CD06)
John Culberson (CD07)
Mike Conaway (CD11)
Rubén Hinojosa (CD15)
Beto O’Rourke (CD16)
Randy Neugebauer (CD19)
Lamar Smith (CD21)
Pete Olson (CD22)
Will Hurd (CD23)
Blake Farenthold (CD27)
Gene Green (CD29)
Pete Sessions (CD32)

As noted later by Svitek, that doesn’t include John Ratcliffe (CD04), who is reported to be Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence. Add in McCaul and Marchant and we’d have turned over more than half the delegation in the last three elections. That’s pretty amazing.

Trying again to primary Cuellar

Good luck. It’s not going to be easy.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

A grass-roots Democratic group that helped power the upset victory of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has identified a Texas Democrat as its first target ahead of the 2020 congressional primaries — but as of now, Ocasio-Cortez herself is staying neutral.

Justice Democrats, a political committee founded after the 2016 election to reshape the Democratic Party through primary challenges, is working to recruit a challenger to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a seven-term congressman from a strongly Democratic district who’s one of the few anti-abortion-rights voices in the party’s House conference.

In a statement, the group compared Texas’s 28th Congressional District, which gave the president just 38.5 percent of the vote in 2016, to other districts where left-leaning candidates have unseated incumbents. It is launching a “primary Cuellar fund” to encourage any potential candidate that there will be resources if he or she jumps into the race.

“There’s an Ocasio-Cortez and [Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna] Pressley in blue districts across America, tired of seeing long-standing incumbents serve corporate interests, work with Trump’s agenda, and work against the progressive movement,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats. “These grass-roots leaders just need a little bit of encouragement and support.”

[…]

The Justice Democrats’ campaign to oust “corporate Democrats” was restarted after the 2018 elections, with Ocasio-Cortez, one of her party’s biggest stars, as its de facto spokeswoman. In a mid-November call with activists, Ocasio-Cortez said that they could “save this country” by either shaming incumbents out of accepting “money from oil and gas companies” or by ousting them at the polls.

“We’ve got to primary folks,” said Saikat Chakrabarti, who would become the congresswoman’s chief of staff.

But Ocasio-Cortez is not intervening in the “primary Cuellar” campaign right now. In her first days in office, the congresswoman has publicly criticized a House rule that required offsets for any spending increases, while privately working to get appointed to at least one committee with jurisdiction over taxes or health care.

While she was not appointed to the Ways and Means Committee after a left-wing campaign on her behalf, Ocasio-Cortez is expected to get a seat on the Financial Services Committee. She is not part of Justice Democrats’ primary recruitment push.

As the story notes, Cuellar gave Democrats in Texas another reason to be annoyed with him when he contributed to Republican Rep. John Carter’s re-election campaign. Let’s state up front that it’s hard to defeat an incumbent in a Congressional primary in Texas. Since 1992, by my count it has happened four times in a Democratic race:

1994 – Sheila Jackson Lee defeats Rep. Craig Washington
2004 – Al Green defeats Rep. Chris Bell
2004 – Henry Cuellar defeats Rep. Ciro Rodriguez
2012 – Beto O’Rourke defeats Rep. Silvestre Reyes

The two from 2004 have an asterisk next to them, as they came after the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, which made each of those incumbents’ districts less hospitable to them. Most years most incumbents face no or token opposition. It’s no easier on the Republican side, as only two incumbents have been ousted during this time. Ron Paul knocked off Greg Laughlin in 1996 after Laughlin had switched parties following the 1994 election, and John Ratcliffe beat the 91-year-old Ralph Hall in 2014.

Anyway. Washington had some ethical issues and a high rate of missing votes at the time SJL took him out. Bell’s CD25 was taken out of Harris County and replaced with CD09, which was drawn to elect an African-American Democrat. CD28 was redrawn to include Webb County, which heavily favored the Laredo-based Cuellar. The 2012 race was the closest thing on this list to an ideological race, but Reyes also had some ethical issues that O’Rourke hit on.

The two ideology-based primary races I can think of are Ciro Rodriguez’s rematch against Cuellar in 2006 (he lost 53-40 in a three-candidate contest) and Adrian Garcia against Gene Green in 2016 (Green prevailed, 57-39, in another three-candidate race). There’s not a viable model in the state for the Justice Dems to follow, is what I’m saying. If they want my advice, I’d say find a candidate with deep ties to the Laredo area, and make your main issue Cuellar’s too-close ties to Republicans. Try to pin him to Donald Trump, if only by association. Downplay as much as you can any and all support your candidate will receive from outside the district and outside the state. And good luck. I wouldn’t advise anyone to get their hopes up, but one never knows.

Who might be next to retire from Congress?

We may see some more exits in the coming years, some voluntary and some not.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Retirement talk is generally speculative until an incumbent makes an official announcement.

But many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021. Thornberry’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond a severe loss of power in Washington, there are potentially bigger problems ahead for Texas Republicans. Every Republican incumbent from Texas who successfully ran for re-election saw his or her margins shrink over Democrats from contested 2016 races. Some of these numbers should not be troubling. For instance, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, won his race this year by 46 points, rather than 50 points in the prior cycle.

But five GOP incumbents – [Mike] McCaul and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Roger Williams of Austin – saw their 2016 margins shrink this year to single digits. These members will likely have to work harder for re-election in 2020 than ever before, and those battles will take place in suburban stretches of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston that have become increasingly hostile to the GOP.

[…]

The 2018 results could well prove to have been a fluke, brought on by the coattails of outgoing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke who ran the best Democratic statewide campaign in a generation in his unsuccessful bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But anxiety is high among members and their aides that Texas can no longer sustain so many GOP incumbents – particularly after political maps gets redrawn during redistricting in 2021. Members with an eye on retirement might well wait to see the outcome of the redraw before deciding whether to call it quits.

The East Texas seat of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is another possible vacancy to watch, though not related to his future re-election prospects. With an increasingly higher profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and a past career as a federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe has emerged as a contender to be Trump’s next U.S. attorney general to replace the current acting AG, Matthew Whitaker.

As the story notes, the delegation has been pretty stable. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting and with four new seats added, there were only eight new members. Three were in new seats, of which one (Roger Williams, CD25) was in the district Lloyd Doggett abandoned to run in the new CD35. Of the other four, two defeated incumbents: Pete Gallego knocked off Quico Canseco in CD23, Beto O’Rourke knocked off Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for CD16. Only Randy Weber in CD14 and Joaquin Castro in CD20 succeeded members that had retired. Between then and this year, Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (CD15) and Randy Neugebauer (CD19) retired, and the now-convicted Steve Stockman (CD36) left to pursue a doomed primary against Sen. John Cornyn in 2014. This year was a bonanza for new faces, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have a few more over the next two cycles.

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

The big news on the Democratic side is the close loss by longtime Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90, who fell by 111 votes to Ramon Romero Jr. I know basically nothing about Rep.-elect Romero, but I do know that Rep. Burnam has been a progressive stalwart, and it is sad to see him go. His district is heavily Latino, and he defeated a Latino challenger in 2012, but fell short this year. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Romero. Also in Tarrant County, Annie’s List-backed Libby Willis will carry the Democratic banner in SD10 to try to hold the seat being vacated by Wendy Davis. Elsewhere in Democratic legislative primaries, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who earned a Ten Worst spot this past session for a DUI bust during the session, was running third for her seat. Cesar Blanco, a former staffer for Rep. Pete Gallego, was leading with over 40% and will face either Gonzalez or Norma Chavez, whom Gonzalez had defeated in a previous and very nasty primary. I’m rooting for Blanco in either matchup. All other Dem incumbents won, including Rep. Mary Gonzalez in HD75. Congressional incumbents Eddie Berniece Johnson and Marc Veasey cruised to re-election, while challengers Donald Brown (CD14), Frank Briscoe (CD22), and Marco Montoya (CD25) all won their nominations.

On the Republican side, the endorsements of Rafael Cruz and Sarah Palin were not enough for Katrina Pierson in CD32, as Rep. Pete Sessions waltzed to a 68% win. Rep. Ralph Hall, who was born sometime during the Cretaceous Era, will be in a runoff against John Ratcliffe in CD04. All other GOP Congressional incumbents won, and there will be runoffs in CDs 23 and 36, the latter being between Brian Babin and Ben Streusand. I pity the fool that has to follow Steve Stockman’s act.

Some trouble in the Senate, as Sen. Bob Deuell appears headed for a runoff, and Sen. John Carona appears to have lost. Sen. Donna Campbell defeats two challengers. Those latter results ensure the Senate will be even dumber next session than it was last session. Konni Burton and Marc Shelton, whom Wendy Davis defeated in 2012, are in a runoff for SD10.

Multiple Republican State Reps went down to defeat – George Lavender (HD01), Lance Gooden (HD04), Ralph Sheffield (HD55), Diane Patrick (HD94), Linda Harper-Brown (HD105), and Bennett Ratliff (HD115). As I said last night, overall a fairly tough night for Texas Parent PAC. Rep. Stefani Carter (HD102), who briefly abandoned her seat for an ill-fated run for Railroad Commissioner, trailed Linda Koop heading into a runoff.

I’ll have more thoughts on some of these races later. I’d say the “establishment” Republican effort to push back on the Empower Texas/teabagger contingent is at best a work in progress. May open an opportunity or two for Dems – I’d say HD115 is now on their list in a way that it wouldn’t have been against Rep. Ratliff – but barring anything strange we should expect more of the same from the Lege in 2015.