ANALYSIS: Makeup of Texas GOP majority more inexperienced, conservative
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AUSTIN (AP) - Voters made it clear Tuesday that Texas remains a deeply red state, electing new conservative Republicans and dashing Democratic hopes in five statehouse races where they were favored.
Republicans almost certainly will lose their supermajority in the Texas Legislature, but more than 95 out of 150 seats still have enough votes to pass their high priority bills. They just won't be able to fast-track their agenda by suspending the rules with a two-thirds vote.
Democrats had hoped to win at least six new seats in the House, but preliminary results appeared to show them limited to just four.
The makeup of the Republican majority will be substantially more inexperienced and conservative next year. Tea party groups punished moderate Republicans in the primary and instead chose newcomers to push a more conservative agenda in 2013.
Democrats, meanwhile, gained strength through redistricting, the process of redrawing political maps that takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census. Minorities made up about 89 percent of the growth in Texas' population since 2000, and the new districts gave them more power, which tends to benefit Texas Democrats.
But the additional Democrats in the House will do little to settle down tea party members who think the Texas House was not conservative enough last year and should move more to the right. They blame House Speaker Joe Straus, whom they want to replace with state Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola.
GOP freshmen have little to lose in privileges by opposing Straus, who became speaker thanks to Democratic support in 2009. Straus must decide whether to appease those on his right to win the speaker's race with Republican support or compromise with Democrats to win them over, along with moderate Republicans.
Of course, Straus could find himself cut out if both the tea party and Democrats withdraw their support, leaving him without a majority. How and if Straus holds on to his post will set the tone for bipartisanship in the House.
Holding more than a third of the vote means Democrats can slow down the Republican agenda by enforcing parliamentary rules. Clever use of those rules can give Democrats behind-the-scenes power to demand compromise.
That's how the Senate worked in 2011, and possibly what cost Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst a seat in the U.S. Senate. Dewhurst, who presided over the Texas Senate, carried on the tradition of compromise and collegial cooperation in that chamber, and that gave former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz an opening to label him a moderate.
Cruz defeated Dewhurst in a run-off to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Dewhurst is returning to the Statehouse chastened. He has announced that he plans a more conservative Texas Senate this year, which Democrats take to mean that he will throw bipartisan tradition out the window.
Dewhurst has already angered the state's second-most senior lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini, by removing her as chair of her cherished Committee on Higher Education. Since committee appointments are key to building alliances and cooperation, the move does not bode well for compromise.
Tarrant County voters also threw up a roadblock against Republicans by re-electing Sen. Wendy Davis, one of the leading progressives in the Legislature. Her victory will spur conservative Republicans to apply additional pressure on Dewhurst to adopt a winner-takes-all approach.