Election Summary for Texas CPAs
By Kenneth Besserman
TXCPA Director of Governmental Affairs and Special Counsel
November 16, 2020
The interminable 2020 election is finally over – at least in Texas. While the presidential election has not yet been certified by the states (at the time of this article) nor have the electors met to elect the president, it appears that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. In Texas, the 2020 election ended on election night. While there were a few state legislative races that were still up in the air by the end of election week, we can now take a look at what happened and what did not happen in Texas.
The biggest takeaway from the 2020 election in Texas is that the vaunted, much anticipated Blue Wave never materialized. Not only did it not materialize, the Blue Wave was held so firmly in check that, because of redistricting that is on the horizon, it may be many election cycles before Democrats will have an opportunity to capture a significant number of House and Senate seats.
When the legislative session convenes in January 2021, the party split in the Texas House of Representatives will be exactly the same as it was last session – 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats. All of the open House seats were retained by the party whose member retired. Only two House seats flipped to the opposing party, both in Houston. Representative Sarah Davis (R-Houston) lost to Ann Johnson (D-Houston) and Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) lost to former Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Houston) who held that seat in previous sessions.
The new legislative session will see a new speaker of the House elected by the members. Just prior to the general election, there were six announced candidates for speaker from the Democratic and Republican parties. As the Blue Wave was turned back, the Democratic announced candidates immediately renounced their candidacies, and the Republicans began jockeying for position and building coalitions to secure the needed votes to become speaker. As of November 20, it appears that Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) has secured the necessary votes to become speaker. Phelan has started a transition team and has put together a team of legislators to begin the process of developing protocols, policies and guidelines as to how the House will operate during the pandemic.
Prior to the election, the Texas Senate was comprised of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. The election saw all members of the Senate, except one, who were up for reelection return to the Senate, and two new senators – Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) and Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) – retain those seats for their party. In San Antonio, Senator Pete Flores (R-San Antonio) was defeated by Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), thereby making the party split in the Senate 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
One of the most pressing issues that the Senate will face in the new session is whether the Senate rules will be changed or amended to accommodate the loss of one Republican senator. Currently, Senate rules require 19 votes (60% of all members) to bring a bill up for debate. With the loss of one senator, either more consensus will be needed to bring a bill up for debate or the rules might be changed (as in past sessions) to lower the threshold to 18 or some lower number. Time will tell as to what direction the Senate will take on moving bills through the Chamber.
The Texas Congressional delegation also saw no Blue Wave. The Congressional delegation will be split 23-13 in favor of the Republicans. While the Democratic Party poured in millions of dollars to flip a few Congressional seats, as they did in 2018, that effort fell flat as well. While Texas is slated to gain about three Congressional seats after the 2020 Census, in all likelihood the Republicans will gain two seats while the Democrats will gain one.
Initial crunching of the numbers has shown that while Democrats did very well in the 20-25 counties along the IH-35 spine of Texas, those numbers were still insufficient to add any Texas House or Congressional seats to the Democratic column. What it shows is that the suburbs and major metropolitan areas are turning purple, blue or bluer, but there is still a long way to go for Democrats in the state.
The non-existent Blue Wave in Texas will have a significant impact on redistricting in the next session and for the decade beyond. With Republicans in firm control of both houses of the Texas Legislature, the Republicans will draw the House, Senate and Congressional maps once the Census numbers are available. What does that mean? The party in power usually has the ability to draw state legislative and congressional maps that favor that party. While it is likely that state maps and congressional maps will be challenged in federal court, past experience has shown that the party in power has largely had the upper hand both in the legislature and in the courts in holding on to the maps it has drawn.
The 2021 legislative session will be challenging in many different ways from redistricting, budget shortfalls, pandemic-related issues, business liability issues, to police reform and others. While some of these issues can be highly partisan, some issues will require continued cooperation between the parties regardless of the non-existent Blue Wave or the deep divisions that exist in the Texas electorate and legislative composition.
Stay tuned for regular legislative updates during the 2021 session and requests from our Government Affairs team to engage in key issues and important legislation. If you are interested in advocacy and our Key Persons program, please reach out and we will get you involved. In addition, please look for correspondence in the coming weeks about the TXCPA Virtual Advocacy Day on January 26, 2021. We have an exciting program with exciting speakers followed by virtual meetings with key legislators.
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