Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Faculty News Political Science

Two Votes Could Make All the Difference for Texas Senate Democrats in 2019

Dallas Observer

Originally Posted: March 19, 2018

Presuming Democrats don’t pull off a statewide upset, Texas’ November election is going to be about the small things. Lupe Valdez or Andrew White probably won’t beat Gov. Greg Abbott, and Beto O’Rourke, however charismatic, probably isn’t going to knock off Sen. Ted Cruz. Across the state, however, there are smaller races, like Colin Allred and Lillian Salerno’s campaign to kick Pete Sessions out of his U.S. House seat in North Dallas, that offer big spoils to whoever wins them. Three state Senate races, in Dallas, Tarrant and Harris counties, have some of the biggest potential consequences in the state.

The fates of the three Republican incumbents in those races, Colleyville’s Konni Burton, Dallas’ Don Huffines and Houston’s Joan Huffman, won’t swing the partisan balance of the chamber. If all three keep their jobs, Republicans will have the majority of seats in the chamber. Same goes for if voters decide to remove all three. If any of the three GOP incumbents loses, however, that could make a dramatic difference in the ability of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to set the agenda for the Senate, which he presides over as president.Burton, Huffman and Huffines are the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election to the Senate, according to Rice University political science professor Mark Jones. Burton, who represents parts of Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and Colleyville, faces a stiff challenge from moderate former Burleson School Board member Beverly Powell. Huffman and Huffines both represent districts that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.

All three senators are a part of a 20-11 Republican majority in the Senate. That’s important because of a procedural mechanism known as the three-fifths rule. The rule requires that three-fifths of the chamber’s members — 19 — agree to let a bill be voted on before it goes to the floor. The rule used to be the two-thirds rule, but Patrick pushed for it to be changed before his first session in charge of the legislature in 2015.

As things are, Patrick can get anything he wants to the floor because Republicans control more than three-fifths of the chamber. If Democrats pick up two seats, reducing the GOP advantage to 18-13, Democrats will have, by a single member, enough votes to block Patrick’s agenda unless Patrick changes the rules again.

“Nobody anticipates that Democrats will actually take control of the Texas Legislature, but if they’re able to win enough seats to have blocking ability, that would seriously cramp Republicans’ style,” Southern Methodist University political science professor Matthew Wilson says. “That would be a real thorn in the side of Dan Patrick.” READ MORE