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Texas Democrats end GOP House supermajority

Nov. 7, 2012 at 5:07 a.m.

Rena Scherer holds small flag fluttering in the wind as greets voters turning up at the polling places.

DALLAS (AP) — Texas Republicans kept their firm grip on the state Legislature, but lost their supermajority in the House of Representatives and couldn’t knock off an incumbent Democrat in a key Senate race.

Redistricting had all but guaranteed Republicans would lose a few seats from the commanding 102-48 majority they held in the House in 2011 that allowed them to pass any bill they wanted through that chamber.

Democrats rebounded to reduce the Republican edge in the House to 95-55. While the GOP remains the dominant force in the Legislature, the Democrats’ slight gain could be important when negotiating combustible issues such as public education funding in the 2013 session.

In 2003, Democrats took the extreme measure of walking out to shut down the House for a week when that session dissolved into bitter partisan fights. The supermajority in 2011 allowed Republicans to push through massive cuts to education and a voter identification bill that sparked some of the session’s most emotional debates.

The few extra votes also gives Democrats a little more leverage when the House speaker is chosen by the members. Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who has been attacked by some in the GOP as not conservative enough, will be seeking a third term.

“I look forward to working with all members of the 83rd Legislature to improve public and higher education, make our budget more transparent, maintain a strong business climate and ensure that Texas has the resources and infrastructure needed for further economic growth,” Straus said.

In the Senate, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has promised a more conservative agenda next year and will still have 19 seats in the 31-member chamber to pursue it.

But Republicans couldn’t wrest a key seat in that chamber from Democrats. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, won an intense fight to defeat state Republican Rep. Mark Shelton.

Under the Senate’s traditional rules, a bill needs two-thirds support of the chamber, or 21 votes, to make it to the floor for a debate. Republicans were fighting for every possible seat to strengthen their position to push through legislation.

Davis survived a tough campaign. Shelton had blasted her as too liberal for Tarrant County and filed ethics complaints against her. Davis denied any wrongdoing and accused Shelton of shilling for tea party supporters outside the district.

Davis has fought for greater spending on public education and health care for the poor. Shelton had promised to reduce the size of government and cut taxes.

“What it shows is the people in this district were able to rise above partisanship if they trust the person they are electing,” Davis said.

Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, leader of the Senate Democrats, called Davis’ victory significant for Democrats.

“The issues of how we address our schools, how we address health care and issues of how we deal with women prevailed on the Democratic side,” Watson said.

Democrats in Harris County also re-elected deceased Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., who died in the final weeks of the campaign after the county had sent out mail-in ballots. In the heavily Democratic district, Gallegos won by a wide margin over Republican R.W. Bray, and Gov. Rick Perry likely will call for a special election in December to fill the seat.

Janie Rivera, 50, homemaker, said she knew Gallegos had died, but she still voted for him. She said her daughter also voted for Gallegos, as did many others from her Magnolia neighborhood east of downtown Houston.

“I had to. I hope he is not forgotten just because of his passing,” Rivera said. “He is on a lot of voters’ minds today.”

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