Deck Starts to Shuffle and Opportunity Emerges for Texas Conservatives

Every election cycle provides an opportunity to reshuffle the proverbial deck of lawmakers in the Texas Legislature.

This cycle will be no different, with the addition of the potential to replace many lawmakers who have served for significant periods of time and have consistently been opposed to conservative efforts.

The Legislature just concluded a regular legislative session earlier this year and three subsequent special legislative sessions with many conservative priorities still left unresolved.

Republican lawmakers have maintained control over every statewide elected office and the state Legislature for almost two decades. Will the fervor over priority issues ignored by the Legislature (like a prohibition on employer vaccine mandates and true property tax relief) finally reach a fever pitch?

New Political Boundaries

Every 10 years, the state Legislature is charged with redrawing the political boundaries for Texas’ share of the U.S. congressional districts, 31 state Senate districts, 150 state House districts, and 15 State Board of Education districts.

Though most districts receive nominal changes to boundaries, some district boundaries change significantly to make up for population and demographic changes seen in the overall U.S. Census.

The largest takeaway, however, from the recently approved boundaries is that of incumbent protection for the vast majority of both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.

The Deck Set to Shuffle

Thus far, 18 total lawmakers have announced they will not be seeking re-election to their current positions. This includes 15 from the House and three from the Senate. This represents a potentially significant shuffle in leadership, as some of the lawmakers are current committee chairmen.

Texas House of Representatives

Republican House lawmakers Chris Paddie (Marshall), Ben Leman (Lola), Scott Sanford (McKinney), Lyle Larson (San Antonio), Dan Huberty (Humble), Kyle Biedermann (Fredericksburg), and Jim Murphy (Houston) have all announced they will not be seeking re-election.

Paddie is the chairman of the powerful House State Affairs Committee and has served in the House since 2013. He was recently censured by his home county’s Republican Party Executive Committee, where they cited his opposition to items related to his own political party’s legislative priorities as the impetus for their censure resolution. In the wake of the 87th regular legislative session earlier this year, Paddie earned among the lowest scores for Republicans on the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility Index, scoring a 33 of 100. According to Rice University’s index, he was ranked the 70th most conservative lawmaker of the 83 Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Larson, who has long been a thorn in the side of conservative activists, announced he would not be seeking re-election right as the third special legislative session was wrapping up. He was first elected to the House in 2010 and has consistently flirted with the idea of leaving the Republican Party for a new moderate third-party effort called the Save America Movement (SAM) Party. Larson was a consistent supporter of former liberal House Speaker Joe Straus (R–San Antonio) and advocated for Medicaid expansion, among other things contrary to his own political party platform.

Murphy is the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee and the House Republican Caucus. He announced his intent to not seek re-election just as the recently concluded special legislative session was getting started. Though he is the Republican Caucus chairman, he has a history of not advocating for his own political party’s legislative priorities and consistently voting against other Republican colleagues on issues on his own political party’s platform.

Another consistent obstacle to conservative reform has been Dan Huberty. He announced he would not be seeking re-election last week and, similar to Larson, supported efforts to expand Medicaid in Texas while also leaving a legacy of being against all school choice efforts.

In June, State Rep. James White (R–Hillister) announced he was challenging current Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) for his position. He is the current chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

In September, State Rep. Matt Krause (R–Haslet) announced he was challenging current Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) for his position, joining other challengers like former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman (R) and current Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush (R). He is the current chairman of the House General Investigating Committee.

State Rep. Phil King (R–Weatherford) announced he was exploring a run for Senate District 10, where the district boundaries were made more favorable to would-be Republican candidates when lawmakers considered new redistricting boundaries during the latest special legislative session. The district is currently represented by State Sen. Beverly Powell (D–Burleson).

In early July, State Rep. Tan Parker (R–Flower Mound) announced he is running for Senate District 12, which is being vacated by State Sen. Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound).

Democrat House lawmakers Eddie Lucio III (Brownwood), Celia Israel (Austin), John Turner (Dallas) have all announced they will not be seeking re-election. State Rep. Michelle Beckley (D–Carrollton) originally announced a challenge to Republican Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne (Irving) in July for Texas Congressional District 24, but due to outcomes in the redistricting deliberations, she has since suspended that campaign.

Reports have indicated that House Speaker Dade Phelan has been given a list of about 20 names of lawmakers who do not intend to return to the House of Representatives. If true, it is expected that more announcements will be forthcoming.

Texas Senate

Republican State Sens. Jane Nelson (Flower Mound) and Kel Seliger (Amarillo) have both announced they will not be seeking re-election.

Nelson is the current Senate Finance Committee chairman and has served since 1992.

Seliger is someone who has had a contentious relationship with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and is consistently rated as the most liberal Republican in the Senate, causing former President Donald Trump to endorse one of his challengers during the recently concluded special legislative session.

Republican State Sen. Dawn Buckingham (Lakeway) announced her campaign for Texas land commissioner in June, and she recently received Trump’s endorsement.

Previous Election Cycle Comparisons

The results of the last election cycle brought forth 16 new House and four new Senate lawmakers. In 2019, the House had 27, and the Senate had six, by comparison.

The last redistricting cycle resulted in 41 new House lawmakers and five new Senate lawmakers. The recently approved political boundaries from this redistricting cycle, however, seem to make extreme efforts to protect incumbents from both political parties, potentially making any primary or general election challenges increasingly difficult for candidates in certain districts.

What Does it All Mean?

Barring any successful litigation against the approved new political boundaries, the candidate filing deadline is December 13, 2021, with the primary election date scheduled for March 1, 2022. Any potential primary runoff elections will take place on May 24, 2022. The general election is on November 8, 2022.

The field of candidates filing to replace both outgoing and current lawmakers continues to grow, setting up some potentially contentious primary elections over the coming months.

Jeramy Kitchen

Jeramy Kitchen serves as the Capitol Correspondent for Texas Scorecard as well as host of 'This Week in Texas', a show previewing the week ahead in Texas politics. After managing campaigns for conservative legislators across the state, serving as Chief of Staff for multiple conservative state legislators, and serving as Legislative Director for the largest public policy think tank in Texas, Jeramy moved outside of the Austin bubble to focus on bringing transparency to the legislative process.