Texas Lobbyist News

As the run-offs for the Democratic Party and Republican Party primaries draw near (May 22, 2018), election buzz is in full swing with the remaining candidates entering the final stretch of the primaries. There are also a couple of special elections coming up in districts where the legislator resigned before the end of their term. The race for Speaker of the Texas House gets a little more crowded. Lastly, we review the recent high profile federal cases alleging the Texas Legislature attempted to dilute the voting power of minority voters.

Representative Leighton Schubert Resigns

Representative Leighton Schubert (R-Caldwell) recently resigned to take a legal affairs job at Blinn College. His resignation forced a special election in House District 13 this past Saturday. However, no candidate received the required 50% plus 1 vote share to win the seat – forcing a run-off to fill Schubert’s current term.

The top two vote getters in the special election, Republicans Ben Leman (Iola) and Jill Wolfskill (Bellville), are also in the Republican Party Primary Run-off for the upcoming full term to represent House District 13. Leman was the top vote getter in the recent special election taking 43% of the vote compared to Wolfskill’s 37% and Democrat Cecil Ray Webster’s (Carmine) 20%. However, it is unlikely a Democrat will win this district – House District 13 is a heavily Republican district and we predict whichever Republican wins the run-off will become the House District 13 Representative.

Representative Larry Phillips Resigns

On April 23rd, Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) sent a letter to Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) notifying the speaker of his intention to resign from his seat in House District 62. Phillips will instead take an open District Judge seat in Grayson County. Governor Abbott recently appointed Phillips to the seat, and he won his Republican Party primary and will not face a general election opponent. In response, Governor Abbott called a special election to fill Phillips’ unexpired term set for November 6, 2018.

Two Republicans are currently in a run-off for the seats full term: Brent Lawson (Van Alstyne) and Reggie Smith (Sherman). Whichever candidate wins the run-off election on May 22nd will face Democrat Valerie Hefner (Sherman) in the general election this November. These three candidates will also run in the special election to finish Phillips’ current term. Again, it is unlikely a Democrat will win this district – House District 62 is a heavily Republican district and we predict whichever Republican wins the run-off will become the House District 62 Representative.

Representative Eric Johnson Files for Speaker of the Texas House Race

Representative Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) became the first Democrat to throw his hat into the race for next Speaker of the Texas House. However, the Texas House will maintain a dominant Republican majority in the coming Legislative Session, making it almost certain that a Democrat will not win the race for Speaker. Some have speculated Johnson is running simply to secure a bargaining chip with whichever Republican is elected as the next Speaker. Currently, three Republicans have officially entered the race: Representative John Zerwas (R-Richmond), Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford), and Representative Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound).

Texas Redistricting Case at the United States Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in Abbott v. Perez, the redistricting case alleging Texas drew discriminatory Congressional and Texas House district maps to dilute the voting power of minorities. The case has been litigated for 7 years now, and a decision is not expected to come down before the general election this November. That means a decision will likely only affect the last election cycle of this decade, if at all, as district maps get redrawn every 10 years to account for population changes. The plaintiffs allege the Texas Legislature drew 11 discriminatory districts by packing minorities in some districts and separating them in others, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Listed below are the 11 districts in question:

  • Congressional District 27 – Currently an open seat following the resignation of U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi).
  • Congressional District 35 – Held by U. S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin).
  • Texas House District 103 – Held by Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas).
  • Texas House District 104 – Held by Representative Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas).
  • Texas House District 105 – Held by Representative Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie).
  • Texas House District 90 – Held by Representative Ramon Romero (D-Fort Worth).
  • Texas House District 93 – Held by Representative Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth).
  • Texas House District 32 – Held by Representative Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi).
  • Texas House District 34 – Held by Representative Abel Herrero (D-Robstown).
  • Texas House District 54 – Held by Representative Scott Cosper (R-Killeen).
  • Texas House District 55 – Held by Representative Hugh Shine (R-Temple).

The case centers on whether the maps were intentionally drawn in a discriminatory manner. Just how far the court is willing to wade into Texas’ redistricting will depend on how Justice Anthony Kennedy, the usual tie-breaking justice, will vote. Recently, Justice Kennedy suggested the Voting Rights Act focuses on past discrimination too much and treats southern states differently than others stating, “No one questions the validity, the urgency, the essentiality of the Voting Rights Act…[t]he question is whether or not it should be continued with this differentiation between the states.”

Texas Voter ID Law Upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Texas’ most recent voter ID bill withstood challenges that the law discriminated against minority voters by requiring they present specified forms of identification at the polling location in order to vote. The bill was crafted in response to an earlier 5th Circuit ruling that struck down Texas’ previous voter ID law. By adding a provision that allows registered voters to vote if they declare why they don’t have an accepted form of identification, the 5th Circuit said Texas remedied any issues of discrimination. The ruling was a big win for Attorney General Ken Paxton who applauded the 5th Circuit in a press release stating, “Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy. The revised voter ID law removes any burden on voters who cannot obtain a photo ID.”

People in and Around the Capitol on the Move

Governor Abbott appointed Tommy Williams to lead the Health and Human Services Commission until the agency can find a replacement following the abrupt but expected retirement of Commissioner Charles Smith.

Senator Brian Birdwell hired Tucker Royall to serve as his Committee Director and General Counsel for the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development. Royall previously served as General Counsel at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Chris Wallace, CEO of the Texas Association of Business (TAB) is leaving TAB to lead the North Texas Commission.