2022 Primary Election Recap –
Much Ado about Nothing?
By Kenneth Besserman,
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel, TXCPA
March 21, 2022
On March 1, Texas voters went to the polls in the Republican and Democratic primaries to choose their statewide and legislative candidates for the November general election. The 2022 election season – and most significantly, the primary election – was set to be highly contested, partisan, controversial and litigious. While there were a few interesting races, runoffs and contested matters, by the end of election night and the days that followed, the primary election mostly followed the well-worn path of protecting the incumbents.
Two crucial factors played into the primary election differently than other years. First, the once-a-decade redistricting process concluded in late 2021, drawing new legislative and congressional maps. Based on political analysis of the new House and Senate maps – based on 2020 election and demographic data – most observers believe that the new maps will have one new Senate seat and four to six new House seats for the Republican Party. The November general election results will determine whether those political analyses are borne out.
Secondly, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 7 in a special session 2021, which created new requirements for requesting, submitting and verifying mail-in ballots. The legislation was controversial for a variety of reasons relating to ballot access, who is authorized to vote by mail-in ballot and what types of verification are needed to assure ballot integrity. There are already reports of tens of thousands of ballots (up to 10% or more of the total primary voters) who saw their mail-in ballots possibly rejected. Election officials are still sorting out the details.
Both of these issues, along with voter apathy, diminished turnout in the primaries. Democratic turnout was down significantly from 2018 and 2020 and Republican turnout was also down by a smaller margin. While the Republican party did see some increase in turnout in South Texas, the overall numbers were still down from previous cycles. The confusion over maps and who now represents voters and the confusion over mail-in ballots may have diminished turnout. Time will tell if the general election will see turnout increase or decrease.
The Big Offices
The statewide races – governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general – did not see any major surprises. Governor Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke both easily won their primaries and are now both focused on the general election. In the lieutenant governor’s race, sitting Lt. Governor Dan Patrick won his primary and will take on the winner of the runoff between Mike Collier and Rep. Michelle Beckley. If Collier wins the runoff, the Patrick-Collier race will be a repeat of the 2018 election.
Comptroller Glenn Hegar easily won his primary and will face the winner of the Democratic runoff between Janet Dudding and Angel Luis Vega. In the race for attorney general, sitting AG Ken Paxton will be in a runoff against George P. Bush and the Democratic primary will pit Rochelle Garza against Joe Jaworski. Attorney General Paxton, faced with a number of lawsuits, criminal allegations and other controversies, fended off a number of other challengers to lead the primary, but must still face Land Commissioner George P. Bush in the May runoff. Of all the runoff races – both statewide and legislative races – this Republican runoff race is slated to be the most contentious (and perhaps, the most entertaining).
In the Texas Senate, incumbents won all their races. There were a few open seats that will see May runoff elections. In SD 27, where Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) is retiring, there will be a Democratic runoff between Morgan Lamantia and Sara Stapleton-Barrerra. The winner will face Adam Hinojosa in the general election. In SD 10, currently held by Sen. Beverly Powell, the general election will be between Powell and Rep. Phil King (R). SD 10, which covers part of Tarrant County and surrounding rural counties, is the one Senate seat that is expected to flip to the Republican Party. In SD 24, currently held by Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R) who is running for land commissioner, the Republican runoff will be between former Senator Pete Flores and Raul Reyes. Flores is heavily supported and endorsed by Lt. Governor Patrick.
In the Texas House, only one incumbent lost their seat. In El Paso, the new map paired two sitting Democratic legislators, Art Fierro and Claudia Ordaz Perez, against one another and Rep. Ordaz Perez prevailed in HD 79. Other House races of interest include Rep. Ryan Guillen (R) winning his primary election after changing parties in late 2021. All of the speaker of the House endorsed candidates won their primaries or made it to the runoff. Most significantly, Rep. Stephanie Klick (R), the member most targeted by the ultra-conservative groups, made it to the runoff after being a heavy target for defeat. In addition, Rep. Reggie Smith, also a heavy target for defeat, defeated Shelley Luther in the Republican primary. Rep. John Raney (R) held off John Harvey Slocum and Rep. Lynn Stucky will enter the Republican primary runoff against Andy Hopper.
With the Republicans in firm control of the Texas House, and the speaker’s candidates winning their primaries or in the runoff, House Speaker Dade Phelan is in position to be elected speaker again in January 2023 for his second term. This primary season saw ultra-conservative groups spend millions and millions of dollars to get their candidates elected and possibly attempt to get a different speaker of the House elected. Those efforts seemed to have fallen flat or not succeeded to the extent that the groups had hoped.
The primary runoff election is set for May 24. Turnout is traditionally very low for runoff elections, so there may be a few surprises in both primaries. With voter apathy at historic lows, new maps confusing to many, litigation over maps continuing into 2022, the national political climate unstable, and the mail-in ballot process continuing to befuddle voters and election officials, there is a lot of uncertainty heading into the November general election.
We will be bringing you more election coverage in this space and Facebook Live throughout the 2022 election season. Stay tuned for updates coming your way.