Advocacy Update: When We Do The Numbers

David Lancaster

There is a primary run-off election on May 24.  VOTE—in the same primary you voted in last month!  (If you did not vote in the March 1 primary election, you can still vote in the run-off, so long as you are registered by April 25.)  After May 24, you can relax until fall.

 Looking ahead, there are officially 16 Senate and 150 House seats up for grabs November 8.  A closer look, however, lessens the suspense. We see that only four (4) Senate and 54 House races were not already ultimately decided when a primary winner was chosen.  166 minus 58 gives us 108 already elected legislators.  Combined with the 15 mid-term Senators elected in 2014, it means that 123—more than two-thirds—of the 181-member 2017 Texas Legislature are already safe from any November electoral catastrophe.


photo via Flickr; AJ Cann

More than that, thanks to redistricting in 2003 and 2011, you don’t even need to take off your shoes to manually count the competitive legislative races still in play.  There are only 10 in the whole of Texas (1 Senate, 9 House) where the historical partisan difference is within five points of break even (50%).  Just for grins, we’ll add one more House race to the mix because a Republican recently won a special election in a district that is slightly more than 55% D.  (Besides, I prefer going barefoot. “Higher math” requires losing one’s shoes when adding an 11th race, which is the real reason I did it.)

Here’s the quick numerical summary: 108 uncontested races—12 Senate (6D, 6R) and 97 House (38D, 59R); and 56 contested (i.e., those with both a Democrat and Republican nominee).  Since they’ve been “packed” via redistricting, here’s the (non) competitive reality:

            23 have a Republican voting history greater than 60% (13 of those 23 are >70%)

            12 have a Republican voting history between 55-60%

              6 have a Republican voting history between 50-55%

              4 have a Democratic voting history between 50-55%

              3 have a Democratic voting history between 55-60%

            10 have a Democratic voting history greater than 60% (7 of the 10 are >70%)

In other words, 33 of 58 contested races are in the “not even worth trying” category by the outside-looking-in party, and 15 are considered “very safe” districts, leaving only 10 with even a remote chance of changing.  How remote is remote?   Among the 10 incumbents, only three are serving their first terms, two have won two elections, and the rest have been elected three or more times and in office for at least 6 years.  (There is at least a little suspense, however. Two of the three “first-termers” have a rematch with the person they beat two years ago, and in both cases fewer than 200 votes separated the winner from the loser.)

Barring a seismic shift, we may see a drop in the number of Republican State Reps—from 98 all the way down to as low as 95; the Senate will remain 20 Rs and 11 Ds.  Given how crazy the 2016 political season has been already, a “seismic shift” can’t be totally ruled out; things could yet spiral completely out of control either way—meaning big coattails for the Democrats or Republicans.  Why not?  So far, it’s been fascinating, frightening, ferocious and funny all at the same time. 

But no matter what happens, don’t expect the 85th Texas Legislature to be much different from last year’s, at least not in terms of partisanship.  Fighting between the chambers will be a whole other ballgame.  Things usually get nasty once competing “true believers” within the same political party set out to prove who’s “more right,” but that’s especially true when the proving being done is inter-chamber.  If you’re not into cutthroat conflict, better start working on your gag reflex now; it’s likely to get really messy come 2017.