State Senator Creighton

 

In the special election for District 4 of the State Senate, vacated by Tommy Williams, the results are in and it is a decisive victory. State Representative Brandon Creighton (R-Montgomery County) has defeated State Representative Steve Toth (R-Montgomery County). The seat is remarkably conservative, centered around The Woodlands and its surrounding right-wing neighborhoods. As such, in the original preliminary election in May, all four candidates were Republicans. When it comes to special elections in Texas, a blanket primary is used, so Creighton and Toth advanced into tonight’s runoff election. Creighton will serve out the remainder of Williams’ term, which stretches until the end of 2016.

Williams, for his part, had always been far more moderate/pragmatic than his Republican constituents may have been. He fought tirelessly time and time again in recent sessions on behalf of bipartisan legislation, and he was an infamous Dan Patrick-hater. Thus, when he revealed last year that he was resigning the State Senate to take a job at Texas A&M University, most observers assumed the chamber would take a rightward tilt irrespective of who his opponent might be.

At the time of Williams’ resignation, Creighton was in the middle of a bid for Agriculture Commissioner. Interestingly enough, when Creighton announced his candidacy for that post in August (Texpatriate was on hand for the event), Toth was among the dignitaries who supported his candidacy. However, once Williams resigned in October, Creighton switched races. Toth soon followed suit.

While Creighton is not nearly as centrist as his predecessor, he is still leaps and bounds above his opponent. While both are undoubtedly beholden to Tea Party and nativist groups and are significantly more conservative than I am familiar therewith. But only Toth is mean hearted about it.

Creighton, at heart, is a representative for his constituents. His support, at its core, is grass roots and reflects the same neighborhoods he grew up in and has worked in. I saw this last year when he held his kickoff event for the Agriculture Commissioner run. Myriad local officials were present, and the cheerleaders from the local high school even held an event. He is a man of the people, albeit very conservative people. Toth, on the other hand, is just all about ideology. His support is astroturfed.

This was the same sentiment expressed by State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a freshman who is quickly becoming the most renowned moderate Republican in the Legislature.

No surprise that Empower Texans endorsed against the Reagan Republican, Brandon Creighton, who is winning by 72% tonight,” Villalba wrote on his Facebook. ” Empower Texans and it’s leadership have no credibility whatsoever.”

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Duncan leaves the Senate

The Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock County) will be resigning from the Senate in order to become the next Chancellor of Texas Tech. Admittedly, I heard a rumor about this a couple of months ago and utterly refused to accept it until I saw it confirmed. I do not especially care about the wonky higher education implications of this, and considering that I do not even talk about the (albeit fascinating) inside politics at the UT system on this publication, I will not bore you with the Ivory Tower tales from Lubbock, Texas (Editorial note: Carl, this is not elitist against your alma matter, it is a general comment that details of inner squabbles with universities, even involving my own college, are not meant to be published here).

Rather, I think the implications of someone like Duncan leaving the Texas Senate are quite significant for two key reasons. First, Duncan is definitely one of the most noble Senators in the upper chamber, and likely the most noble among Republicans. Avid followers of the chamber will surely remember Duncan for his kindness, integrity and all around good graces toward those on both sides of the aisle. However, much more pressing is that he was a foe to ideologues and partisan-over-policy attitudes, especially those in the Tea Party and other fringes of the right wing. In fact, early this year, Duncan strongly repudiated the so-called “race to the right,” a move that garnered him some positive press from an op-ed of mine in The Daily Texan.

But the Senate is losing much more than a moderate, click here to find out what!

Deuell backs Patrick

I promise you that this is very significant. State Senator Bob Deuell (R-Hunt County), a long time stalwart of the upper chamber hailing from the east, has endorsed Dan Patrick in the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor. Patrick (R-Harris County), yet another member of the State Senator, did not always appear to have the most amiable of relationships with Deuell. Not so much for any centrism, but his bipartisanship and general decency around Democrats did him in with the Tea Party. Accordingly, he drew a Tea Party backed, far-right challenger in Bob Hall this primary cycle. Deuell and Hall will face off against one another next month in a runoff election, though polls generally put Deuell at an advantage.

Deuell supporting Patrick in a desperate attempt to improve his conservative credentials should not be seen as surprising in the least, but it is extremely important because of what it means for the future of the Texas Senate. Simply put, Deuell was an invaluable part of coalition I conjured up to combat the reign of terror from Dan Patrick, who –barring an incredibly strange turn of events– will be the next Lieutenant Governor of Texas. The point I made last month was that, assuming Wendy Davis’ Senate seat falls into Republican hands (Dems were too lazy to find a candidate worth their weight in paper), 5 Republicans would have to defect and join with the Democrats to strip Lt Gov Patrick of all his power at the start of the 84th Legislative session in January 2015. As I explained previously, the broad powers that the Lieutenant Governor has as the President of the Senate is by tradition not constitutional mandate. A majority of the Senate could easily strip the Lt Gov of her or his powers.

Click here to read more!

Tommy Williams to retire

The Texas Tribune reports that Sen. Tommy Williams (R-Montgomery County), the Chairman of the Finance Committee, will be resigning from the State Senate some point soon to take a position with Texas A&M University, still to be announced. The position, rumored by the Tribune to be in government relations, will most likely not be to replace R. Bowen Loftin as President of the University.

The Houston Chronicle delves a little deeper into the story, noting that they could confirm he would not seek re-election 2014, though not confirming resignation before then. Since the Legislature is adjourned until that time, it makes little sense to resign mid-session.

Williams, for his part, is not all that surprising of a figure to leave the body. He was briefly mulling a run for Comptroller this year, which he ultimately decided against.

I don’t know of any chatter about who would be running for Tommy Williams’ Senate district, but I’m sure we will hear more about that over the next few days. For my part, this took me completely be surprise. Williams hasn’t really been one of the good guys recently, but a rudimentary lesson in Texas politics is, no matter how bad it is, it can always get worse.

Transportation deal in the works

The Texas Tribune reports that a very select Conference Committee, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Sen. Finance Cmte. Chair Tommy Williams and Sen. Transportation Cmte. Chair Robert Nichols, has come up with the framework for a deal on Transportation funding. As the astute may recall, this was the issue added immediately after redistricting to the call of the first special session. However, the filibuster and other misplaced priorities on the part of the Republicans lead to the issue dying at sine die. The issue, along with Miller compliance and abortion, was added to this session’s call.

The House and the Senate have both previous passed Transportation funding bills. The key difference between the two bills rest on what money from the rainy day fund (RFD) is used for, as well as how much money to use. The House’s version included a convoluted project which would entangle education funding, by switching around lots of earmarks for RDF-bound taxes.

The Conference Committee’s bill would divert lots of money earmarked for the RDF, originally form oil & gas taxes, for transportation funding, predominantly highway maintenance. While many originally wanted a provision setting a minimum RDF balance at $6 Billion, this new bill requires the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), dominated by Republicans, to set the amount. This bill is a constitutional amendment, meaning it requires 2/3 of both Houses and must be endorsed by a majority of voters in November–although the new bill pushes the referendum back to 2014.

Since 2/3 is required, 5 House Democrats and 2 Senate Democrats are needed for approval. This is not just a rule or a tradition, but part of the State’s Constitution. Dewhurst cannot get around it. Accordingly, it is worth noting that Democrats are somewhat unified in opposition to setting a limit to the RDF balance.

This is somewhat noteworthy, because the session ends on Tuesday. The Houston Chronicle reports that Perry has absolutely no problems calling lawmakers for a third special session on this issue, and this issue alone.

Accordingly, it may be in the Democrats’ interest to compromise.

UPDATE: Off the Kuff has more.

Where do we go from here?

Awful. Tonight, after a variety of speeches, good and bad, by nearly all of the members of the Senate, the body approved HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill, 19-11. The bill is identical to the House version, and, as such, is now sent to Governor Perry’s desk for his signature.

One of the biggest highlights of the evening was that the DPS informed female gallery guests that tampons, among other items, would be confiscated upon entrance. I also saw unconfirmed tweets that DPS troopers were told to instigate the orange shirted individuals, whilst backing off from those wearing blue. But that’s just a rumor.

The speeches were what one expected. Wendy Davis delivered what would probably be the most repeated line of the evening, stating “Some may believe that that this fight has been waged and won with this final vote today, but they are wrong in so many ways. The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning.” This is what I’ve been saying, Remember the Alamo!

In addition to Davis, Sen. John Whitmire delivered quite an emotionally stirring speech that deserves positive recognition. Jose Rodriguez, Kirk Watson and Royce West also had great things to say. But at a certain point, we had to assent to the inevitable. Around midnight, after religious antics that had no place in a Government proceeding , Dewhurst called the roll and the Senate approved the measure. Sen. Tommy Williams (R-Montgomery County) was absent while Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Cameron County) voted affirmatively. I will give credit where credit is due to Sen. Lucio, however. The Senate considered 20 amendments by Democrats that did everything from provide rape exceptions to inserting equal pay wording into the statute. Lucio joined with the other Democrats on all of these amendments.

It will probably be about 10 days before Governor Perry signs this legislation. At that point, it would be November 1st before the law would take effect. The ambulatory surgical center requirement would not take hold until some point in 2014.

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This all presents the unfortunate question of, “Where do we go from here?” Simply put, there are three places to go from here.

1. The Courthouse
The day that this bill is signed by the Governor, expect there to be a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court. Given that the plaintiffs will most likely seek a temporary restraining order, it will be filed in the Western District, based in San Antonio, because that court has jurisdiction over Austin.

If you are confused about what I just said, here is the basic gist of it. Constitutional court cases must arise out of a current controversy, meaning someone must have an active injury or complaint in the case. For example, an abortion provider who had no choice but to close after the regulations went into effect. Such a lawsuit could arise out of any of the four Federal Districts in Texas (the Northern, based in Dallas, the Western, based in San Antonio, the Southern, based in Houston, and the Eastern, based in Tyler). However, if the lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, to enjoin enforcement of the legislation before it takes effect, it will be much more academic. Thus, centered around Austin.

As I have discussed at length previously, this bill, once becoming law, should go down in flames in Federal Court. If it doesn’t, the Supreme Court must take an action tantamount to overturning Roe.

2. The Ballot Box
Since the first filibuster, I have seen a lot of my contemporaries, who couldn’t have cared less about politics just a few weeks ago, become involved and outspoken on the process. If this motivation and anger will translate to mobilized and dedicated voters on this issue, it will be a wonder for the Democratic Party. That is still an open-ended question at this point, however.

2014 will see all Statewide positions, roughly half of the State Senate and all 150 State Representatives seek re-election. If the Democrats do their jobs (a big if), we could have a meaningful impact.

3. Activist Lane
Remember, don’t get mad, get even. Or at least get involved. This whole controversy has propelled Wendy Davis into the national spotlight. As I have been arguing somewhat perpetually now since the filibuster, she truly needs to run for Governor, regardless of her feasibility as a winning candidate. Be the Democrats’ Barry Goldwater.

Find people riled up by this, and register them to vote. Get people involved with the local Democratic Party. And, my gosh, find some candidates for Statewide office next year. Wendy Davis is obvious, but there are so many others. Rodney Ellis, Jose Rodriguez, Leticia Van de Putte and Judith Zaffrini are among the talented Democratic Senators who are not up for re-election next year. Cecile Richards is a great possible candidate as well.

There was a huge rally at the end of the evening tonight, where Cecile Richards and Jessica Farrar led thousands of protesters from the Capitol down Congress Street. Stuff like that needs to continue happening.

So, I guess Wendy Davis really was prophetic when she said this is only the beginning, and not the end. Don’t pout, don’t cry, don’t complain. What we need to do right now is to get to work. I will part with a line from an old Bob Dylan song that I find quite fitting for this evening.

“The loser now will be later to win, oh the times they are a-changin'”

Good night and good luck.

To run or to not run

Two people take the plunge, one way or another, today. The Houston Chronicle reports that Sen. Tommy Williams, who has recently been exploring a run for the Comptroller’s office, has ultimately decided against that pursuit. The Comptrollers’ race is quite crowded, consisting of Sen. Glenn Hegar, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, Fmr. Rep. Raul Torres and Debra Medina. However, Williams did not cite these concerns, rather relying upon the fact that he is the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, which evidently takes up a lot of time.

In his press release (MR WILLIAMS, PLEASE SEE THE IMAGE BELOW), Williams stated:

“…serving as Chairman of the State Senate Finance Committee is incompatible with the demands of simultaneously running for a statewide election. After careful consideration I feel I can best serve our state and the people of Southeast Texas in my current role as State Senator and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.”

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This is an interesting position for Sen. Williams to take because he is not up for re-election in 2014. Generally, the reason Senators are so open about the idea of running for Statewide office is that they draw the coveted four year term. Some Senators, such as Wendy Davis, are up for re-election in Midterm years after drawing two year terms (I still think it was rigged). This is why it is always a neat site to see an incumbent Representative, like Harvey Hilderbran, declare for a Statewide office.

In other news, The Dallas Morning News reports that Stefani Carter, a Dallas area State Rep, is all but officially announcing her candidacy for Railroad Commission, specifically Smitherman’s seat. I discussed the Railroad Commission commission spots last week, including Carter’s possible candidacy. Her only opponent, at this time, is Malachi Boyuls, a friend of the Bush dynasty.