Balance of Power: Republicans defend majority in Texas House

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A blue wave, it was not.

Despite millions of dollars spent on down-ballot races and repetitious statements that Texas is the biggest battleground state, Democrats failed to achieve their goal of flipping nine seats and gaining a majority in the state House for the first time since 2002.

In fact, little changed to the balance of power in the Texas House on Election Day.

With still some mail-in and provisional votes to be counted, it appeared that the 83-67 Republican majority would remain mostly intact.

“Biggest losers in this election are the pollsters,” Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said on Twitter. “Texas DID stay Red.”

To Abbott’s point, months of polls had President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in a dead heat in Texas, though a Democrat hasn’t won the state since 1976. In the end, Trump won Texas and its 38 electoral votes by 6%.

Incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn defeated Democrat MJ Hegar by an even greater margin, 10%.

Abbott later released a statement congratulating Republicans heading to the House.

“Thank you to Texas voters for keeping the Texas House red this election. Over the past several years, the Republican-majority legislature has helped usher in historic accomplishments from teacher pay raises and school finance reform to reining in property taxes and fostering greater economic prosperity. Texans have sent a clear message that they want their elected officials to build on these accomplishments and put our state on a path to an even stronger future. I look forward to working with the legislature this session to support our law enforcement officers, rein in taxes and regulations, and bring more jobs to the Lone Star State,” Abbott wrote.

Texas Democrats, meanwhile, acknowledged they “fought like hell” to take back the house, but fell short.

“There is no doubt that Texas Democrats have work to do. We have tough questions to ask ourselves. There are significant challenges before us, and new solutions are required. The future of Texas is at stake,” it wrote in a release.

While Democrats were optimistic about Biden’s prospects in Texas, the state House was the real prize. By winning a majority in the lower chamber, Democrats would have played a crucial role in redrawing the state’s political maps.

“I think the credit goes to the people on the ground, the grassroots activists, the volunteers, the folks that were out there waving flags and going door to door,” Allen West, the chair of the Republican Party of Texas, told KXAN. “That’s where the real credit goes.”

Democrats had targeted 22 state House districts in 2020, nine of which former U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke won in 2018 but remained in Republican control.

State Rep. Erin Zwiener of Hays County was among four Central Texas Democrats to hold on to seats that were flipped blue in 2018. She said the absence of straight-ticket voting and the limitations on campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic played a key role in down-ballot races.

“Republicans who held their seats won them by campaigning on Democratic issues like health care, like education, by claiming our positions,” Zwiener told KXAN late Tuesday night. “They’re now going to feel some pressure to follow up on those.”

Zwiener defeated Republican challenger Carrie Isaac by 1% of the vote in House District 45.

Democrat Vikki Goodwin, who also flipped her seat in 2018, narrowly edged out Republican Justin Berry in House District 47, which includes west and far south Travis County.

Democrats James Talarico and John Bucy both won reelection in their Williamson County districts.

Political Priorities

In a year where state agencies are tightening their belts, lawmakers will face mounting questions on how to pay for the education advancements they made last year and how to address healthcare in a state hit hard by COVID-19.

“We’ve got to find a way to make sure that people have access to affordable care,” Ed Espinoza, executive director of progressive political organization Progress Texas, said. Liberals in Texas are eyeing increased access to healthcare and expanded voting rights.

“I think there’s opportunities for the legislature to work together again in 2021, it just has to be the will to make it happen,” Espinoza said.

Meanwhile, West said Republicans are attentive to election integrity and balancing the budget.

“I don’t mind you working across the aisle, but you should never surrender your principles and values are used to be true to the platform of the Republican Party of Texas,” he said, of conservative lawmakers.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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