The battle for the Texas Legislature has gotten a little more interesting, with predictions the Lone Star State could pick up four new congressional seats. Since the lines are drawn by the state house and senate, anyone with an interest in federal issues better start looking a little further down the ballot. Coupled with a projected budget shortfall, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus may be wondering what he signed up for.

Texans currently have 32 of the 435 representatives in the United States House. Because of Texas’ growing population, and growing share of the overall US population, our new congressional districts would come at the expense of other states losing population.

As the San Antonio Express News notes, the Texas delegation is divided up 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Add these new seats from the heavily GOP-leaning Texas, and it could mark a significant change in the balance of power in Washington.

No matter what one might hope, the drawing of lines is an inherently bitter partisan task — back in 2003 state House Democrats fled to Ardmore, Oklahoma, in the hopes of stopping re-districting. After all, that turn at line-drawing took away the last vestiges of their century-old grip on Texas congressional lines.

Combined with the budget, this puts two big, and politically divisive, issues on the table for House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

He was elected speaker in 2009 after serving a session-and-a-half in the House; 11 Republicans joined with 65 Democrats in replacing former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) with Straus. Craddick was perceived as a conservative with a strong hand, while Straus appeals to more moderate sensibilities.

In taking office, Straus pledged to let House committee chairs call the shots, and keep himself in the background — which is pretty much how the Session unfolded. Unfortunately, on the signature issue of 2009 for many conservatives it meant Democrats successfully killed the publically popular Voter ID legislation.

Mr. Straus’ hands-off approach might not fly this go-round.

Whatever other strengths Mr. Straus might possess, legislative experience isn’t one of them. He hasn’t served in a legislative session confronting either a budget shortfall or redistricting. Each taken alone severely taxes the comity of any legislative session and demands strong leadership. But combined? The five-day ‘chub’ Democrats employed in ’09 to kill Voter ID may look like a walk in the legislative park.

Republican voters will expect a majority of those new congressional seats to go Republican… and the budget shortfall to be managed completely with spending restraint.

After all, the GOP already has a 78-72 majority in the Lege (with Rep. Chuck Hopson’s party switch and the retirement of Rep. David Farabee in a slam-dunk GOP seat). The math only improves for Republicans as you consider match-ups around the state in an anti-Obama mid-term. Factor in that the GOP caucus will be more strongly commonsense conservative, as we consider the victories around the state in the march 2 primary, and the Republican hand gets stronger.

Meanwhile, the Democrats will expect the incumbent Republican Speaker, who they brought to the dance in the first place, to make concessions on both easing budget cuts and favorably drawing congressional lines. He appeases them on these issues at great political peril.

If Straus intends to be loyal to his GOP roots, observes can expect the partisan rancor to hit an all time high. it would seem Democratic Party bosses only hope would be to wear down the majority party through the Session’s complete derailment.

Come to think of it, if anyone could be forgiven considering a run out of state next legislative session, it might be Mr. Straus.


Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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