Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Speaker Straus

I had occasion to listen to Speaker Straus give public remarks at a fundraiser for Rep. Sarah Davis yesterday, and then I later observed a roundtable discussion between the Speaker and a group of Houston’s leading CEO’s.  The Speaker articulated his priorities for the upcoming session as education, transportation infrastructure, water and positioning Texas for continued economic success while meeting the needs of a growing state.  He noted that “we have more children in our public schools than the individual populations of 28 states, and it costs money to educate those kids.”
Houston CEO’s spoke of the opportunity for Houston and the Gulf Coast to take advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal, the need for an educated workforce in the 21st Century, and the necessity to bring clarity to healthcare costs and programs.
What struck me, however, was how the Speaker has grown since his election as Speaker in 2009.  In many respects, Straus was an accidental speaker.  First elected to the House in a February 2005 special election, he was launched onto a trajectory into the Speaker’s office by a 6-5 vote among 11 House Republicans in January 2009.  His stated objectives were to bring a tone of civil discourse to the House and empower the members to represent their districts.  While restoring decorum to the Texas House, however, he initially seemed reluctant to provide decisive leadership. He also went through a baptism by fire from doctrinaire conservatives during the 2009 session and in a vitriolic speaker’s race prior to the 2011 session, which was not settled until opening day.  
What has emerged is a man who is comfortable with who he is and what he stands for, and who is unafraid.  Although he is facing a primary opponent from the right (very unusual for a sitting Speaker), he is energized by the challenge and intends to “win decisively.”  When others in Texas have rushed to wrap themselves around Sen. Santorum in order, some would argue, to court favor with hard right conservatives, Straus has defiantly and vocally endorsed Gov. Mitt Romney.  He has put together a well-funded and smoothly functioning political operation, and is preparing to wade into Republican primaries and help friendly incumbents.  In short, I have watched him grow a tough hide and a strong backbone.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, some are born leaders, some achieve leadership, and some have leadership thrust upon them.  Straus had leadership thrust upon him.  I see a man who is now beginning to seize those reins of leadership, and put his imprint on the Texas House.  He states “Texas is a center-right state, it is not a far right state.”  He clearly intends to lead Texas in a center-right direction.  If he is able to successfully do that in this political environment of extreme partisanship and vitriol, he will have the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Texas Railroad Commission

Two of the 3 Texas Railroad Commission seats are on the ballot.

Chairman Barry Smitherman is seeking election to the remainder of Michael Williams' unexpired term ending in 2014.  Smitherman has 3 Republican opponents, 2 of whom filed last week.  The other candidate has been in and out of the race since last fall, and is now back in.  A Democrat did not file for this seat.

Smitherman has proven to be a prolific fundraiser, having now received contributions in excess of $1.5 million.  None of his opponents appear to have any money.  Smitherman's statewide radio began last week.  I would rate Smitherman as a heavy favorite.  (Full disclosure:  I serve as Smitherman's campaign treasurer).

The other seat is currently vacant because of the resignation of Elizabeth Ames Jones.  I expect Governor Perry to appoint Buddy Garcia as an interim commissioner in the near future.

Six Republicans and 1 Democrat are seeking election to this 6-year term ending in 2018.  The 3 candidates with funding are Rep. Warren Chisum; Christi Craddick and Roland Sledge.  I expect a runoff between Chisum and Craddick.

More information may be found at

Texas Senate

Congratulations to the 9 members of the Texas Senate who do not have major party opposition and were reelected as of the filing deadline:

  • Bob Deuell
  • Jane Nelson
  • Rodney Ellis
  • John Carona
  • Joan Huffman
  • Glen Hegar
  • Troy Fraser
  • Leticia Van de Putte
  • Eddie Lucio
As we knew, the following 4 Senators retired:
  • Steve Ogden, and his replacement will be decided in a Republican primary contest between Ben Bius and Dr. Charles Schwertner
  • Florence Shapiro, and her likely replacement will be Ken Paxton (although he does have a Democratic opponent)
  • Chris Harris, and his replacement will likely be decided in a Republican primary contest between Reps. Kelly Hancock and Todd Smith (although there is also a Democratic general election opponent)
  • Mike Jackson, and his replacement will likely be decided in a Republican primary contest among Rep. Larry Taylor, Dave Norman and Daniel McCool (although there is also a Democratic general election opponent)

5 Republican Senators are facing one primary opponent, which means that they cannot be forced into a July 31 runoff (a bad place to be for any incumbent):

  • Robert Nichols
  • Tommy Williams
  • Robert Duncan
  • Craig Estes
  • Kel Seliger
Sen. Jeff Wentworth has 2 primary opponents as well a general election opponent.

3 Republican and 9 Democratic Senators have general election opponents only:
  • Kevin Eltife
  • Mario Gallegos
  • Dan Patrick
  • Wendy Davis
  • Kirk Watson
  • John Whitmire
  • Carlos Uresti
  • Juan Hinojosa
  • Judith Zaffirini
  • Brian Birdwell
  • Royce West
  • Jose Rodriguez
More information may be found at

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Texas House Races -- Harris County

7 of the 24 Harris County state representatives face no major party opposition in either the primary or the general, and congratulations to the following who were reelected yesterday with the passage of the filing deadline:

  • Patricia Harless
  • Wayne Smith
  • Allen Fletcher
  • Armando Walle
  • Harold Dutton
  • Carol Alvarado
  • Jessica Farrar
There are 2 open seats:
  • Scott Hochberg is not seeking reelection, and 4 Democrats and 1 Republican are vying to represent this seat rated as 18.0D by TWI
  • Ken Legler is not seeking reelection, and 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans are vying to represent this seat rated as 1.7D by TWI
6 members are facing primary only races:
  • John Davis has 1 opponent
  • Alma Allen has 1 opponent
  • Bill Callegari has 1 opponent
  • Jim Murphy has 2 opponents
  • Dwayne Bohac has 1 opponent
  • Borris Miles has 1 opponent
3 House members have both a primary and a general race:
  • Dan Huberty
  • Garnet Coleman
  • Debbie Riddle
Finally, 6 members are facing a general election opponent:
  • Sarah Davis
  • Gary Elkins
  • Sylvester Turner
  • Senfronia Thompson
  • Ana Luna
  • Hubert Vo
More information may be found at

Texas House Races -- Bexar Co.

5 of the 10 Bexar County state representatives face no major party opposition in either the primary or the general, and the following were reelected yesterday with the passage of the filing deadline:

  • Trey Martinez Fischer
  • Ruth Jones McClendon
  • Lyle Larson
  • Mike Villarreal
  • Jose Menendez
Status of the other 5 seats is as follows:
  • 3 Democrats are vying for the nomination to face John Garza in a district with a TWI rating of 2.3R
  • Joe Farias and Roland Gutierrez each have a general election opponent
  • Speaker Straus has a primary opponent
  • 2 Democrats and 1 Republican are vying to replace Joaquin Castro, who is running for Congress

More information may be found at

Texas House Races -- Tarrant Co.

Unlike Dallas County where 6 of the 14 state representatives face no major party opposition, all of the 11 House seats in Tarrant County are contested.  There are 5 seats without an incumbent seeking reelection, as follows:

To be decided in the Republican primary:

    • District 91 where Kelly Hancock is running for SD 9
    • District 92 where Todd Smith is also running for SD 9
    • District 97 where Mark Shelton is running for SD 10

To be decided in the Democratic primary:

    • District 95 where Mark Veasey is running for CD 33 (there is a quixotic Republican for the general election)
    • District 101 is a new seat with a TWI rating 21.0D

There are 5 seats where the incumbent is facing a primary challenge:

  • District 90 where Lon Burnam has one challenger
  • District 93 where Barbara Nash has two primary challengers
  • District 94 where Diane Patrick has one challenger
  • District 96 where Bill Zedler has one challenger
  • District 98 where Vicki Truitt has both a primary and general election challenger
Finally, Charlie Geren has a quixotic Democratic general election opponent in a 31.1R district.

More information may be found in the spreadsheet at

Texas House Races -- Dallas County

Dallas County lost 2 state representative districts in redistricting, dropping from 16 to 14 seats.  The refiling deadline yesterday turned out to be a good day for incumbents with only Angie Chen Button facing a primary challenger.  As best I can tell from the various party sources, the following drew neither a primary nor a general election major party opponent and will be reelected:
  • Eric Johnson
  • Rafael Anchia
  • Roberto Alonzo
  • Dan Branch
  • Helen Giddings
  • Yvonne Davis
The following incumbents did not seek reelection to the House:
  • Rodney Anderson (paired with Linda Harper-Brown)
  • Barbara Mallory Caraway (running for Congress)
  • Joe Driver (paired with Cindy Burkett)
  • Will Hartnett
  • Jim Jackson
The following Republican incumbents did not draw a primary opponent, but face a Democrat in the general election:
  • Stefani Carter
  • Linda Harper-Brown
  • Kenneth Sheets
  • Cindy Burkett
There are 3 open seats, 2 of which will be decided in the primary:
  • 3 Democrats are vying for the Caraway seat
  • 5 Republicans and 1 Democrat are vying for the Jackson seat
  • Former Rep. Bill Keffer and 2 other Republicans are running for the Hartnett, as is former Rep. Carol Kent and another Democrat
More details on the races may be found at

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jesse Ancira to be Speaker’s Chief of Staff

Jesse Ancira, Jr. will be named as Speaker Straus’ Chief of Staff succeeding Denise Davis, who recently left to open her own law and lobby practice with Lisa Kaufman.  Ancira previously served as General Counsel, Senior Tax Advisor, Economic Development Advisor and Ethics Advisor to Speaker Straus. He is a former Associate Deputy Comptroller, former Assistant State Auditor, and a former Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  He is a graduate of Taylor High School and holds an accounting degree from Southwest Texas State University and a law degree from The University of Texas.
Ancira also serves as an At Large Representative on the Taylor City Council, having been elected in May 2011.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

SD 9 -- Republican Primary

We now have 3 incumbent Republican State Representatives filed to replace the retiring Sen. Chris Harris in SD 9:  Rodney Anderson; Kelly Hancock and Todd Smith.  Below is a chart showing the number of their current House district voters in SD 9.  Hancock and Smith start off with the advantage based on these numbers.

Current Member
Total Number of Registered Voters
Voted in at least 1 of past 4 Rep. primaries
Voted in at least 2 of past 4 Rep. primaries

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rep. J. M. Lozano Will Run as a Republican

Rep. J. M. Lozano (D - Alice) has decided to switch to the Republican Party and will file for reelection as a Republican in HD 43 this week.  George P. Bush was instrumental in his recruitment, and Governor Perry, Speaker Straus, and other GOP officials have contacted him and welcomed him to the party.  A press conference is in the works for this week.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Competitive Texas House Races -- Houston SMSA

Under the San Antonio court redistricting maps, we currently have 8 competitive House races in the Houston area.  There are 2 newly created seats (Districts 3 -- Waller and Montgomery; and 85 -- Ft. Bend, Wharton and Jackson), 2 swing seats (Eiland and Legler), and 4 open seats (Taylor, Howard, Weber and Hochberg).  The filing period does not close until 6 p.m. on Friday, so it is always possible that there may be additional competitive primary races.  Below is my current analysis of these 8 races.
IncumbentDist.CandidatePartyTWICOH 12/31/11RDM Assessment
3CecilBellR51.2R$68,235Heavy favorite.  Strong community ties and personal wealth.
Craig Eiland23CraigEilandD2.3R$97,836Favorite.  Elected to Texas House in 1995.
23BillWallaceR2.3R$250Ex-Chambers County Commissioner.
Larry Taylor24GregBonnenR42.5R$465,612Favorite.  Great sign presence in the district; able to self-fund; brother is Rep. Dennis Bonnen.
24RyanSittonR42.5R$7,569Credible candidate, but definite underdog to Bonnen.
24HeidiThiessR42.5R$1,279TEA Party candidate.
Charlie Howard26SonalBhucharR32.8R$96,111Ft. Bend ISD Board President.  Credible candidate.
26JacquieChaumetteR32.8R$77,725Appears to be current frontrunner.
Randy Weber29EricJohnsonR29.6Rn/a
29EdThompsonR29.6R$120,018Heavy favorite.  Pearland Mayor Pro-Tem.
Open85LeeDugganR19.1R$63,530Favorite.  Son of former Sugar Land Mayor.
85PhilStephensonR19.1R$19,978TEA Party candidate.
85DoraOlivoD19.1R$655Former State Rep.
Scott Hochberg137JoeMaddenD18.0D$10,242Rep. Garnet Coleman's Chief of Staff.
137JamaalSmithD18.0D$2,500Former ED, Harris County Democratic Party.
137SarahWinklerD18.0D$1,378Alief ISD Board member.
137GeneWuD18.0D$70,869Is off to the fastest fundraising start.  Has upcoming March 8 fundraiser hosted by Gordon Bethune.
137MJKhanR18.0Dn/aFormer Houston City Council Member.
Ken Legler144KenLegler (Inc.)R1.7R$34,040Elected to Texas House in 2009.
144Mary AnnPerezD1.7R$14,547HCC Board President.
144KevinRisnerD1.7R$0Son of current JP.
144OrlandoYbarraD1.7R$3,663Member, Pasadena City Council.