This was certainly an election like no other before it. More than a million Texans showed up at the polls (with masks and hand sanitizer) to cast their ballots, while an unknown number chose to put their ballot in the mail. Mail-in ballots are not all counted and included in the election day totals, so it is possible that the outcome of a few races may still be subject to change. Even so, for the most part, we know which names will appear on the ballot in November. Knowing who will show up to vote and who will receive the most votes in November is an entirely different matter.
Voter turnout was higher among democratic voters, but that may or may not be indicative of Texas turning blue because there was a statewide runoff race for that party’s nomination for the US Senate. That means that democrats had a reason to vote statewide, while republican voters in many areas of the state didn’t have a runoff race on ballot at all.
No incumbent member of the Texas Legislature lost their seat in March, but of the six incumbents facing challenges in this runoff election, only two survived. Even so, four is still a lower turnover rate than we have seen in previous election cycles. That coupled with fewer retirements could mean less turnover in the Texas Legislature overall…unless voters have something different to say about that in November.
There were two runoff races for seats in the Texas Senate and one special election. Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) won his election to keep his seat. He still needs to beat his General Election opponent in November, but it’s now safe to assume Senator Lucio will be returning to the seat he’s held for nearly 30 years.
Over in Senate District 19, Senator Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) was likely watching to see who his democratic opponent would be in November. Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) secured that nomination and will face Flores in the General Election. This will be a race to watch, as many have speculated that this seat, which was picked up by the Republicans in 2018 could change party hands again (and therefore the partisan make-up of the Texas Senate).
The special election in Senate District 14 was conducted to fill the seat vacated by Kirk Watson (D-Austin). The once 6-way race is now down to two who are poised for a special runoff election: Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt was about 400 votes shy of meeting the 50% threshold required to win the election outright, and she will face-off against Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), who received 34% of the vote. Though with more than 2,000 mail-in ballots yet to be counted, this one could already be decided, and we just don’t know it.
Lastly, one thing we do know is that Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) will remain a member of the Texas Senate. He lost his bid to qualify to run for the US Senate on the November ballot, but his term in the Texas Senate is unexpired, so we will still call him Senator West.
Four incumbent House members lost their seats in this election: two Republicans and two Democrats. Parent PAC endorsed Chairman Dan Flynn (R-Van) lost his bid for re-election to Bryan Slaton, a financier from Royce City. Slaton lost his previous two challenges for Flynn’s seat, but the third time was the charm for him, as he had 61% of the vote. The other Republican to lose his seat was over in HD 59. Parent PAC endorsed Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) lost to Shelby Slawson, an attorney from Stephenville, who received 62% of the vote.
The two Democrats to lose their seats are incumbents whose names you may not recognize. Both these individuals were elected in special elections to fill vacant seats earlier this year. Parent PAC-endorsed Rep. Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas) lost her ability to hold on to her new seat in HD 100 to attorney Jasmine Crockett. Crockett has no opponent in November, she is headed to the House. Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston) lost her new seat in HB 148 to Penny Morales Shaw, who received the endorsement of the former state representative who recently vacated (after long holding) that seat, Jessica Farrar. Morales Shaw still has to win the General Election.
The other House incumbent in a runoff was long-time House Public Education Committee member Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston). Dutton held on to his seat with 52% of the vote, despite the challenge from City Councilman Jerry Davis.
There are 10 open seats to be filled in the House that do not have incumbents running for re-election. Half of those races required runoff elections to determine which name will appear on the November ballot.
- HD 25: This seat has been occupied by outgoing Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Lake Jackson) for over 20 years. Cody Thane Vasut won the Republican nomination in the runoff election and will face Democrat Patrick Henry in November.
- HD 26: The seat vacated by out-going Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) had primary runoffs on both sides of the aisle. With 52% of the vote, Jacey Jetton secured the Republican nomination and the right to face off against Sarah DeMerchant, who received 52% of the vote and the Democratic nomination.
- HD 60: This race in Hood County included a match-up between Parent PAC endorsed Glenn Rogers and Empower Texans endorsed Jon Francis. Rogers, a vet, rancher, and former school board trustee in Graford ISD, garnered 51.5% of the vote. He doesn’t have a General Election opponent in November, so Dr. Rogers will soon be Rep. Rogers.
- HD 119: The race for the seat vacated by Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) due to his run for the Texas Senate will include Republican George B. Garza and the Democratic opponent determined by voters in the runoff election, Liz Campos, who had 56% of the vote.
- HD 138: House Public Education Committee member Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) is retiring from his seat, and Parent PAC endorsed Akilah Bacy secured the Democratic nomination with 79% of the vote. She will face Republican Lacey Hull on the ballot in November.
The other three runoff elections for Texas House races, to determine the opponents of three House incumbents this November included:
- HD45: Republican Carrie Isaac, the wife of the former state representative who previously held this seat, secured 65% of the vote and the right to appear on the ballot in November facing off against Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood).
- HD47: Republican Justin Berry earned 55% of the vote and defeated his opponent in the runoff, so he will face Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) in the general election.
- HD67: With 51% of the vote, Democrat Lorenzo Sanchez knocked off his primary opponent and challenge Chairman Jeff Leach (R-Allen) in November.
State Board of Education
Two SBOE races required a runoff election—one in each party. In SBOE District 5 (which runs from Austin, through San Marcus, and into San Antonio), for the seat being vacated by retiring member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio), known “jokester” Robert Morrow was soundly defeated by Northside ISD speech-language pathologist Lani Popp, who received 78% of the vote and the Republican nomination. She will face Texas State University professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau in the General Election.
In SBOE District 6, the seat of retiring former Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston), will be filled by Michelle Palmer,who secured the Democratic nomination with 64% of vote or Republican Will Hickman, an attorney and parent in Spring Branch ISD, who secured his spot on the ballot back in March.
What comes next?
Now all eyes turn to November 3. Presidential election years always have the highest voter turnout. Thoughts that voters wouldn’t turn out during a pandemic seem to be misguided at this point, given the strong showing for this runoff election. The fact that over 8% of registered voters showed up to vote in the middle of the summer during a pandemic says people are interested.
The election this November will be the first election in Texas when straight party voting is not an option. Folks won’t be able to check one box for the party of their choice and call it a day. Voters will have to indicate their choices in each and every race, and for many of the down ballot races that change could have huge implications. It’s much harder to ride anyone’s coattails and candidates for office must stand out on their own and earn their votes. Ironically, enough, many of those down ballot races for the state House and Senate will determine which elected officials will be responsible for drawing the maps that will chart the course of the political future in Texas for the next 10 years and beyond (and manage what could be the biggest budget shortfall of our time).
We saw some seats in the Texas Legislature change party hands in 2018. Will that be the case again? Ask either party and they will tell you the answer is yes, but they will mean very different things with their answers.
The current breakdown in the Texas Senate is 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. There’s only one race identified as in-play to possibly change hands—SD 19. If the Democrats pick up that seat and make it an 18-13 Senate, the “two-thirds rule” which was changed to the “three-fifths rule,” in order to for bills to be heard in the Senate may have another fraction assigned to it.
The Texas House currently has 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats. In the last election cycle, Democrats netted 12 seats. In order to shrink the 16 seat divide, Democrats would have to hang on to all 12 seats in what many would argue are swing districts and pick up more in districts that have been identified as vulnerable. Meanwhile, Republicans will be attempting to reclaim some of those 12 seats, along with a few other races they think could fall their way, as they try to grow the 16 seat difference to a higher number. Due to the factors of this election being during a pandemic in a Presidential election year with no straight party voting, there may be some races more vulnerable to one party or another than anyone even realizes yet.
And whichever party ends up in control of the Texas House, they will have the responsibility of electing a new Speaker. So just in case you were bored with 2020, it’s about to get interesting.