Around the Texas Capitol: Ballots set for March primaries; House gets study assignments

By Shayne Woodard, J Pete Laney and Lauren Spreen
TAD Governmental Affairs

Going into the holidays, ballots for the Republican and Democrat primaries in March has been set with the passing of the Dec. 9 filing deadline. We now have a better idea of what’s in play for the Texas Legislature and Congress for January 2021.

However, some last minute “change of minds” by two filed incumbent candidates triggered those Texas House of Representatives races to remain open an extra week, until close of business on Dec. 16. Mike Lang of Granbury (HD 60) and Bill Zedler of Arlington (HD 96) both filed for reelection and then chose to retire.

With primary ballots settled, we now have a better idea of what’s in play for the Texas Legislature and Congress for January 2021.

But first …Gov. Greg Abbott has set Jan. 28 for runoff elections in three Texas House races to fill seats vacated by a retirement and an election to a new office. In these races, no candidate gained the majority of votes needed to win in the special elections held in November. In HD 28, Republican Gary Gates (Rosenberg), a real estate investor, will face Democrat Elizabeth Santos (Katy), an educator. Rep. John Zerwas, who held that seat, resigned. In HD 100, Rep. Eric Johnson left this seat after his election as Dallas mayor. Two Dallas Democrats are in the runoff: James Armstrong, a pastor and nonprofit executive, and Lorraine Birabil, an attorney. In HD 148, where Rep. Jessica Farrar resigned, Democrat Anna Eastman, a former Houston ISD board trustee, will challenge Luis LaRotta, chairman of Republican Liberty Caucus Houston. Both live in Houston.

A breakdown of the lineups

Texas Senate: Currently 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats

Of the 31 members of the Texas Senate, 16 seats are on the ballot (8 Rs, 8 Ds) in 2020. Of these 16, only one is expected to be competitive in the general election: SD 19, held by Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton). Flores won a special election for this historically Democrat-leaning seat. Two incumbent senators – Borris Miles (R-Houston) (SD 13) and Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) (SD 27) – have primary opponents. Ten incumbents (7 Rs and 3 Ds) have general election opponents. There is one open seat in the Texas Senate, SD 29 being vacated by Democrat José Rodriguez of El Paso. Current Rep. César Blanco, a Democrat, and one Republican have filed for this seat that will be decided in the November 2020 general election.

Texas House: Currently 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats

The real legislative election action will be in the Texas House, where all 150 seats are on the ballot. There are 10 open seats on the 2020 ballot, being vacated by seven Republicans and three Democrats.

More breakdown: 30 incumbents have primary election opponents (14 R and 16 D), and 60 incumbents have only general election opponents (40 R and 20 D).

Political pundits and media say that 30 House seats could be competitive, and there is a chance that Democrats could win a majority in the Texas House – an important position at a time when the House will be electing a new Speaker with the planned retirement of current Speaker Dennis Bonnen. It’s been about two decades since Democrats last controlled the House. For more on this, the Texas Tribune has an excellent analysis and a breakdown of the battlefield districts.

U.S. Congress – Currently 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats

All 36 seats in the Texas delegation are on the ballot. Six incumbents, all Republicans, are retiring. Eighteen incumbents have primary opponents (8 Rs and 10 Ds). Thirty incumbents have general election opponents (18 Rs and 12 Ds).

Upcoming election dates and deadlines

Jan. 28 – Election runoff for HD 28, HD 100 and HD 148.

Feb. 17-28 – Early voting for the March 3 primary

March 3 – Primary election day

Nov. 3 – General election day

Texas House receives interim study charges

 House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Nov. 25 issued interim study charges to House Committees. Each committee received a charge to “Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 86th Legislature.” In most cases, that charge was followed by a list of specific bills that passed. All committees also received an audit review charge to “Monitor the State Auditor’s review of agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction.”

A couple of other charges worth for the Committee on Agriculture and Livestock are worth noting:

Evaluate the Texas Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) current preventative management practices concerning crop diseases and plant pests that negatively impact the financial security of farmers in this state. Make recommendations on how TDA can educate farmers, agricultural producers and communities that sustain agriculture about crop disease and plant pest prevention to further mitigate loss of profits.

Study the effects on traditional agriculture when labeling food products in this state, particularly when using terms to describe products from animals, products produced in labs, and other products meant to mimic or imitate animal products. Study the effects on traditional dairy agriculture when labeling food products in the state or products not originating from a domesticated animal. Study the effects on traditional agriculture when labeling any produce or byproducts of produce in the state.

You can see the full list of House interim study charges here. Senate interim study charges were released in October and can be seen here.

Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council

Gov. Greg Abbott on Nov. 22 reappointed James D. “Jim” Bradbury, who serves TAD as legal counsel, and Abby Frank to the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council for terms set to expire Feb. 1, 2025. The council advises and assists the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program (TFRLCP) with administration of the program and to select applicants to receive grants. The goal of the TFRLCP is to conserve working lands with high values for water, fish and wildlife, and agricultural production. Bradbury of Austin is an attorney and managing member and partner of James D. Bradbury, PLLC. Frank of Brenham is the branch manager of Texas Farm Credit. She is a member of Texas Land Brokers Network and South Central Board of Realtors.

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