With 31 lawmakers passing, Texas legislature has room to go redder

More than two dozen members of the Texas legislature are retiring or running for a different seat next year, creating a plethora of vacancies that could cause both houses to turn redder and more polarized from here. the meeting of lawmakers in 2023.

Many of the outgoing members are center-right or establishment politicians with years of experience, opening seats for younger and more ideologically extreme substitutes. In many cases, their districts have been redesigned to strengthen the GOP’s grip on the legislature, eliminating almost all battlefield contests that tend to attract more moderate candidates.

These changes, coupled with new political maps that leave little room for Democrats to gain ground in November, have laid the groundwork for an even more conservative legislature, even as Republicans hail the 2021 legislative session as the most curator of state history.

“The tides are changing again,” said State Representative Dan Huberty, a moderate Republican from north Houston who is not seeking re-election. “You have different political leaders, and the constituency has an idea of ​​what they want. You will see a change. I guess it will be more conservative.

The Capitol is also on the verge of losing some of its oldest retired lawmakers, draining “a generation of political expertise” in areas such as healthcare, education, agriculture and the border, a said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston. The average seniority of outgoing members is 13 years.

It’s still not unusual for a mass reshuffle after a cycle of redistribution, the once-a-decade process of redrawing the political maps of the state. In some cases, the new cards make re-election more difficult for incumbents, either by removing them from their constituencies, or by changing the political trend. In others, the changes could open up new opportunities for serving representatives to run for a higher position.

Twenty-five representatives from the 150-member Texas House do not plan to return next year, a total that solidified on Monday, the deadline for candidates to file for the March primaries. Two outgoing Democrats also go head-to-head in the same district, and only one of them can return.

In the Senate, the most faithfully conservative chamber, only one member is seeking higher office. Four members plan to retire, including the more moderate members of the chamber on both sides of the aisle – Senator Eddie Lucio, a Democrat from Brownsville, and Republican Senator Kel Seliger from Amarillo and Larry Taylor from Friendswood .

A total of 31 members are unlikely to return to Capitol Hill in 2023, and that list could grow if the sitting members lose their primary or general elections. After the 2012 election, after the last round of redistribution, the final total was 49.

Redistribution feeds polarization

In both houses, the redistribution has bolstered GOP support across the state, making it likely that even more Republicans will travel to Austin for the 2023 legislative session.

Republicans currently hold 18 seats out of the 31-member Senate, and that could increase after next year’s general election. Former President Donald Trump wore 16 State Senate districts in 2020, but the new map would bring that total to 19.

It’s the same story in the House, where Republicans currently hold 85 seats. Trump got 76 of those districts last year, but he reportedly won 85 under the new setup.

“This cycle will shape Texas politics as much as any we’ve seen in the past decade,” Rottinghaus said. “The effect will be profound on the legislative process. I think the balance of power will lead Republicans to have a lot more control because they are able to develop and exploit the authority of leadership. “

The new vacancies have also created a field for the more ideologically extreme members to run for office – a trend seen nationwide as national and national politics increasingly polarize and money rushes in for election. these candidates, said Jennifer Clark, professor of political science at the University of Houston.

“It appears that increasingly moderate members are being sidelined and not showing up for these seats,” she said. “And then it self-reinforces, of course, because then we see increasing polarization and even more reluctance on the part of moderates to enter these races.”

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The moderates leave the house

In 2011, Huberty was one of 37 predominantly Republican freshmen at Texas House – a mix of conservatives and moderates who took over the Tea Party wave, including three members who had previously served in the House. , lost their seat and then got them back. This year.

By 2023, there will be few new elected moderate members to this class, with most of the remaining refractories – including Huberty, John Frullo of Lubbock, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, and Jim Murphy of Houston – refusing to stand for re-election next year. . .

Huberty rejected the idea of ​​moderate Republicans leaving Austin because they are fed up with leading the legislature or being kicked out by more conservative members.

“It’s just the nature of the business,” Huberty said. “The average tenure of a state representative is around five years. It’s like a running back in the NFL: it doesn’t last very long. I don’t see anything that is cause and effect like, ‘Oh my god, it’s all gone so far to the right, I don’t want to do it anymore.’ “

The 2023 session would be far from the first time that the composition of the Legislature has shifted to the right. But when that happened in recent years, more conservative freshmen were largely constrained by the House leadership, led by former President Joe Straus, a moderate Republican from San Antonio. The current speaker, State Representative Dade Phelan de Beaumont, has rarely objected to Tory priorities in his first year wielding the hammer.

“The speaker is certainly not Joe Straus in terms of ideology,” said Jon Taylor, professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “He’s a lot more conservative… He’s obviously not as conservative as (Lt. Gov.) Dan Patrick, but more conservative nonetheless. So I think you’ll see a surge in those who are more on the right side of the Republican Party in the next Legislative Session.

State Representative Mayes Middleton, a Republican from Wallisville who chairs the Conservative House Freedom Caucus, praised the “impressive” list of GOP candidates running for the House of Texas this cycle.

“I have spoken with a lot of them,” Middleton said. “They have the fire in their stomachs to fight for our common conservative values ​​and ensure that these policies cross the finish line.”

Middleton, one of the more conservative members of Texas House, is now running for a vacant seat in the State Senate with Patrick’s approval.

The Legislature leadership has also prompted some House Democrats to resign, although it is not clear whether they will be replaced by more progressive members.

One of the outgoing Democrats, State Representative Ina Minjarez of San Antonio, said she decided to forfeit her reelection and run as a Bexar County judge in part because she was fed up with it of the legislature’s turn to the right – a trend she says will continue next sitting.

“We are not working on the issues, on the policies that really improve the quality of life for people in this state,” Minjarez said. “To me it has become nothing more than a bunch of rhetoric and a bunch of political games.”

The Senate drifts further to the right

In the Senate, Lucio’s seat could be the only competitive race next year. The other open constituencies are solidly Republican, and those who are likely to replace incumbents are ideologically more to the right than their predecessors – or are, at least, closely related to Patrick, the leader of the upper house.

Seliger was known for his frequent arguments with Patrick, sometimes challenging him and blocking the passage of priority bills. But State Representative Phil King, the Weatherford Republican vying to replace him, has already obtained Patrick’s stamp of approval.

Taylor, one of the more moderate members of the Senate, is also set to be replaced by a more conservative successor. Among those running in to replace him are Middleton and Robin Armstrong, a doctor backed by snack-favorite Attorney General Ken Paxton. (Armstrong gained attention last year when he controversially administered hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients at the Texas City nursing home where he works.)

It’s hard to say whether ideological changes in the Senate can help pass conservative legislation that has failed this year, such as a ban on COVID vaccine mandates, Seliger said. Those who replace outgoing GOP members will also be Republicans who share many of the same values ​​as their predecessors – and some may dissolve behind closed doors, he said.

“The things that go through are the things approved by the Lieutenant Governor,” he said. “It won’t change.”

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