Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sitton to Run for Railroad Commissioner

Ryan Sitton has decided to run for Railroad Commissioner joining the crowded race for Chairman Barry Smitherman's seat.  Other candidates in the race include Rep. Stefani Carter, Malachi Boyuls, former Rep. Ray Keller and Becky Berger.   Sitton is the founder and CEO of an oil and gas engineering and technology company. He resides in Friendswood, and ran for State Representative in 2012 losing a Republican primary runoff to Dr. Greg Bonnen.  A hard working, attractive candidate, Sitton intends to jump start his campaign with $1 million in personal funds.  An official campaign announcement will occur after Labor Day.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Freshman Class of 2015

Labor Day is the traditional starting date for the fall and spring campaign season.  The vast majority of the statewide candidates on the Republican side appear to be declared and out on the hustings.  Democratic statewide candidates will fall in place after Sen. Davis officially declares for Governor, although I do not expect to see any Democratic legislators going “up or out” other than Sen. Davis.  

Incumbent legislators running for higher office cause a domino effect down ballot bringing new members into the legislature.

So far, two Senators and seven House members are not seeking reelection to the 84th Texas Legislature.
  • Sen. Dan Patrick (SD 7) is running for Lt. Governor, and he will be replaced in the Senate by former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.
  • Sen. Ken Paxton (SD 8) is running for Attorney General.
  • Rep. Brandon Creighton (HD 16) is running for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Rep. Craig Eiland (HD 23) has announced his retirement from the legislature.
  • Rep. Mark Strama (HD 50) has resigned from the legislature to head up Google Fiber in Austin, and a special election to fill is seat will be held November 4.
  • Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (HD 53) has announced he is not seeking reelection to the House and is expected to declare next week for Comptroller.
  • Rep. Van Taylor (HD 66) is running for SD 8 (Paxton) and is the likely winner.
  • Rep. Stefani Carter (HD 102) is running for the Railroad Commission seat being vacated by Chairman Barry Smitherman, who is running for Attorney General.
  • Rep. Dan Branch (HD 108) is running for Attorney General.

Additionally, I expect Sen. Wendy Davis (SD 10) to officially announce for Governor after Labor Day.

Retirements being seriously contemplated include Rep. Allan Ritter (HD 21) and Rep. John Davis (HD 129).

What is clear is that the freshman Class of 2015 will be much smaller than the Class of 2013 when 44 new House members (including Rep. John Raney) and six new Senators joined the 83rd Texas Legislature.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Davis to Run for Governor

Credible sources tell me that Sen. Wendy Davis will run for Governor in 2014 and not seek reelection to Texas Senate District 10.  It will set up a high stakes match-up with Attorney General Greg Abbott in the November 4, 2014, general election.

Sen. Davis believes that she faces a tough race regardless of whether she seeks reelection to the Senate or runs for Governor.  In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry received 52.7% of the vote in SD 10 compared to 44.6% for Mayor Bill White.  In 2012, Gov. Romney defeated President Obama in SD 10 53.3% to 45.4%.  

Sen. Davis has been elected twice in SD 10, so it clearly is a winnable race -- but tough.  Sen. Davis is now a national figure for Texas Democrats, and a senate reelection run would draw in national money both for and against her.  If she is going to have a tough nationalized race, she would prefer it be for Governor.

The last Democrat to be elected Texas Governor was Ann Richards in 1990.  Since then, the Democratic nominee has received the following percentage of the vote:  1994 - Richards 45.7%; 1998 - Mauro 31.2%; 2002 - Sanchez 40%; 2006 - Bell 29.8%; 2010 - White 42.3%.  Public Policy Polling released a poll July 2, 2013, showing General Abbott leading Sen. Davis 48% to 40%, and the same poll had Gov. Perry leading Sen. Davis 53% to 39%.  Texas is still a deeply red state, and running for Governor as a Democrat in Texas is a steep uphill climb.

Nevertheless, there are upsides for Sen. Davis.  The stars could align, however improbably, and she could conceivably win.  Alternatively, assuming she runs a credible race, a cabinet or subcabinet position would probably be available to her under President Obama or in a future Clinton administration.  Lastly, a strong showing in 2014 would position her as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for Governor or U.S. Senator in 2018, assuming the Democrats have a better shot with each passing election cycle.

However, the real winner of Sen. Davis’ decision to run for Governor are Texas Democrats.  Without her, they have no credible statewide candidate in 2014.  With her, they will likely find other credible Democrats willing to step out and run statewide.  She will also provide a race that Battleground Texas, the Obama campaign’s effort to turn Texas blue, can organize around.  Finally, she will likely boost Democratic turnout in urban counties such as Dallas and Harris helping down ballot Democrats running for county and judicial offices.

Sen. Davis’ race for Governor is a win for Texas Democrats.  It remains to be seen whether it will ultimately be a win for Sen. Davis.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen – Start Your Engines!

The Texas House is scheduled to convene Monday afternoon and take up SJR 1 relating to transportation funding and SB 1, its enabling legislation.  As we motor through the Third Called Session, let’s consider the long and winding transportation funding road the Texas legislature has been on this summer.

Additional transportation funding ran out of gas in the Regular Session.  Neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass legislation to provide TxDOT the additional dollars it needs annually to maintain our existing roadways and keep up with population growth.

During the First Called Session, SJR 2 by Nichols passed both the Senate and the House, as amended, and was eligible for Senate concurrence on the last day of the session. SJR 2 would have taken one-half of the revenue currently transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund and dedicated it to transportation funding.  However, SJR 2 became stuck in traffic behind SB 5 relating to the regulation of abortion, and SJR 2 crashed on the Senate floor in the ensuing road rage of that chaotic evening.

HJR 2 then took a drive through the Second Called Session passing both the House and the Senate, and the differences between the bodies were resolved by a Conference Committee Report (CCR).  HJR 2 again would have taken one-half of the revenue currently transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund and dedicated it to transportation funding.  All that remained was for 100 House members and 21 Senators to vote to adopt the CCR.  Only 84 House members voted yes, 40 voted no, 23 were absent, and transportation funding again reached the end of the road, this time on the House floor.

Gov. Perry immediately called the legislature back for its monthly commute on transportation funding (Third Called Session) on Tuesday of this week.  The Senate suspended all rules, gunned SJR 1 into the fast lane, and raced it over to the House containing the exact same language as the previous CCR.  The House will now start its engines at 2 p.m. on Monday and take up SJR 1.

Will this SJR 1 lap through the House have a different ending and cross the finish line with 100 votes, or will the summer transportation odyssey continue?  It is clear that the House leadership is unenthusiastic about passing SJR 1.  It is also clear that the relationship between the Governor and the Speaker is strained.  Right now we have a contest of wills where one side doesn’t want to pass transportation funding in this manner, and the other is saying I will keep you in Austin until you do.  Something has to give.
Monday should be another fascinating day at the legislative race track.  House leadership has to decide whether they want to pass the bill, or do they want to resolutely kill it.  They have the votes to do either.  But, if they are not decisive, SJR 1 will spin out on the slick House track tantalizingly close to the finish line and we will be back for a Fourth Called Session.

UPDATE 8/2:  Thank you for the blog entry on the transportation bill. As you can imagine Sen. Nichols is hopeful this thing can get done next week. I did want to mention one thing I noticed in your report. The House committee passed HJR 1 out yesterday, not SJR 1. Unfortunately that means if it passes on Monday we will have to pass it through our process (which should not be an issue) in the Senate. I am unaware of a House rule that would allow Pickett to swap out the HJR for the SJR unless Phillips reconvenes his committee and votes out the SJR.

For what it's worth....


Steven J. Albright, MPA
Chief of Staff
Office of Senator Robert Nichols