As Texans head into early voting for the November general election, there has been a fair amount of punditry from all sides on what to expect. Since before President Donald Trump was even in office, Democrats have been clamoring about a coming “blue wave” of electoral victories across the country, hoping to take back the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives in order to stop Trump’s America-first agenda.
And Texas hasn’t been immune to these predictions.
While Republicans have controlled the state legislature since 2002 and Democrats haven’t won statewide office since 1994, Texas Democrats have invested heavily in legislative seats they see as vulnerable in hopes of making big gains on November 6.
Much of this focus has been in Dallas County, where demographic shifts combined with years of uninspiring messaging from local Republicans have thrust several legislative seats into question. In 2016, the county voted for Hillary Clinton, with several Republican lawmakers barely eeking out victories against the Democrats they, in years past, would have given little consideration towards.
Despite the predictions the conservative grassroots continue to work hard knocking doors, making calls, and supporting conservative legislators and candidates and they will continue to work until the votes are counted.
But why does this election seem so much more difficult?
Consider and contrast the two chambers of the legislature and their prospects in November.
In the Senate, Republicans have picked up an extra seat with the victory of Pete Flores in a Democrat-leaning district even before the November general election. And while Republican Sens. Don Huffines of Dallas and Konni Burton of Colleyville are indeed in the midst of serious re-election campaigns, it appears all but certain that Republicans will continue to hold the supermajority necessary for conservative legislation to pass through the Senate.
In fact, they may even hold more senate seats than last session.
Meanwhile, most electoral attention has been on the House, where optimists predict Republicans losing just a few seats while doomsayers predict the GOP losing fifteen or more. And, other than Deanna Metzger’s campaign against Democrat State Rep. Victoria Neave (Dallas), there are few opportunities for Republicans to make gains.
The actual result will probably be somewhere in between. But why are House Republicans having such a hard time holding on to their seats?
The answer is largely in the performance of each chamber during the last legislative session.
Consider the Senate: Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, they passed substantial conservative reforms throughout the session, including legislation to reform and reduce out-of-control property taxes and meaningful ethics reform.
House Republicans, under the failed leadership of Speaker Joe Straus, obstructed those popular reforms.
While the Senate was delivering on their promises to the voters who elected them, leadership in the Texas House was busy ensuring none of those proposals could even be voted on by the body. And when Gov. Greg Abbott called the legislature back for a special session to address 20 pieces of conservative legislation, the Senate made quick work of passing 18 of them while the Texas House ran out the clock.
Because of this obstruction, House Republicans were given little to campaign on. While Senate Republicans can point to their work on issues people care about, House Republicans can’t. Often, they didn’t even get a chance to register a vote on the issues voters care about.
It boils down to a simple question: If you are an average general election voter, Republican or independent: What motivation has the Texas House of Representatives given you to go out and vote?
To be clear, none of this is a reason for the grassroots to back down from helping true conservatives running for the Texas House. Activists should be motivated to work twice as hard for those they know they can count on, like State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving) and conservative businessman Jonathan Boos.
Electoral predictions are usually worth the price paid for them, and certainly anything could happen on election night. Texans will find out the results in due time. But one thing is certain: If Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives lose seats, they will have their own leadership’s obstruction to blame.