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Primary elections result in major Texas House turnover

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 3/07/2024

The Texas primary elections took place March 5 following a contentious election season marked by millions in out-of-state donations and attempts by statewide elected officials to unseat public education-friendly incumbents. Some primaries are headed to runoffs; when a primary race includes more than two candidates and no one candidate receives at least 50% of the vote, the top two finishers compete in a runoff. This year’s primary election runoff will take place May 28, with early voting May 20–24. 

Here’s what you can find in this reporting from ATPE’s lobby team: 

U.S. President and Senate 

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump each won their respective party’s Texas primary. Biden secured 85% of the vote in the Democratic primary. Trump claimed roughly 78% of the Republican primary vote, with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley second at 17%. Haley suspended her campaign Wednesday but declined to endorse Trump. 

U.S. Congressman Colin Allred of Dallas defeated state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D–San Antonio) and seven other candidates in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas). Allred will face Cruz in the November general election. 

State Board of Education (SBOE) races of interest 

SBOE member Pat Hardy (R–Fort Worth), the longest-serving member currently on the SBOE, lost her reelection bid Tuesday to Brandon Hall, who received more than $100,000 from voucher supporters. Hall defeated Hardy 53.2% to 46.8%. 

SBOE member Pam Little (R–Fairview) will head to a runoff against Jamie Kohlmann, whose campaign was heavily financed by voucher supporters and who worked as a staffer for the pro-voucher Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Little led voting in a four-way contest with 36.2%, followed by Kohlmann at 26.9%. 

SBOE member Tom Maynard (R–Florence) will head to a runoff against Round Rock ISD trustee Mary Bone, who was endorsed by Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham. Maynard secured 49.3% of the vote to 40.5% for Bone in a three-way contest.  

Texas Senate races of interest 

Sen. Nathan Johnson (D–Dallas) will return to the Texas Senate after handily surviving a primary challenge by Rep. Victoria Neave Criado (D–Dallas). Johnson defeated Neave Criado 59% to 41%. 

On the Republican side, candidates Brent Hagenbuch and Jace Yarbrough will head to a runoff to succeed retiring Sen. Drew Springer (R–Muenster) in the open primary for Senate District (SD) 30. Hagenbuch led the four-way primary with 36% of the vote, followed by Yarbrough with 34%. Democrats Michael Braxton and Dale Frey will also face each other in a May runoff for the opportunity to compete for this Senate seat in November, though the district was drawn to ensure the election of a Republican.  

In the Democratic primary, current Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D–Houston) will face off against Molly Cook to replace former Sen. John Whitmire, now the mayor of Houston. Johnson led the four-way race with 36% of the vote, followed by Cook with 21%.  

Texas House races of interest 

Speaker’s primary 

Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) is headed to a runoff following an especially contentious race in which Gov. Greg Abbott (R), former Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and former President Donald Trump all weighed in.  

Phelan will face David Covey in the May 28 primary election runoff. 

Anti-voucher House Republicans 

In addition to the Speaker’s race, several of the most competitive contests this primary season involved state House races in which Abbott endorsed candidates running against incumbents who opposed his private school voucher proposal. Out-of-state PAC money flowed into these races to reshape the Texas House into a more compliant and voucher-friendly chamber. It’s noteworthy that the attacks leveled by the pro-voucher PACs often minimized the topic of vouchers, focusing instead on spreading disinformation related to the incumbents’ records on border security and general school funding. 

Twenty-one House Republicans voted against vouchers in the fourth/final special session of the 88th Legislature. Sixteen of those members sought reelection. Six have won their party's nomination and likely reelection:  

Six of the anti-voucher Republican House members were defeated:    

The remaining four anti-voucher Republican House members face a runoff election in May: 

Democratic races of note 

No Democratic incumbents were defeated, though Rep. Shawn Thierry (D–Houston) is headed to a runoff after finishing second place behind Lauren Ashley Simmons.  

Three Democratic members of the House Public Education Committee defeated their challengers. Rep. James Talarico (D–Austin) easily bested Nathan Boynton 84% to 16%. Reps. Alma Allen (D–Houston) and Harold Dutton (D–Houston), two of the longest-serving members of the Texas House, won their races outright against multiple challengers. 

In HD 37, former SBOE member Ruben Cortez Jr. was the top vote getter in a four-way race, receiving 33% of the vote. He will face Jonathan Gracia, who came in second place with 25%. The winner of the runoff will face freshman Rep. Janie Lopez (R–San Benito), who will be trying to defend one of the most competitive seats in the November general election. Lopez flipped the from D to R in 2022 and voted in favor of vouchers.   

Races of note for open seats 

There are numerous open House seats, in which no incumbent is running for reelection, during the current cycle. Of particular note, several of these seats represent either likely partisan shifts or shifts in support of public education policy issues. 

In HD 12, Republicans Trey Wharton and Ben Bius are headed to a runoff. One of these candidates will likely replace retiring anti-voucher Rep. Kyle Kacal (R–Bryan). Wharton received 35% of the vote to Bius’ 33%.  

Similarly, in HD 29, Republicans Jeffrey Barry and Alex Kamkar are headed to a runoff to replace retiring anti-voucher Rep. Ed Thompson (R–Pearland). Barry received 48% of the vote to Kamkar’s 44%.  

Voucher proponent Republican Wes Virdell has won his primary in HD 53 and will likely replace retiring anti-voucher Rep. Andrew Murr (R–Junction), assuming Virdell wins what is unlikely to be a competitive race in November in this solidly Republican district.  

In HD 77, Democrats Vince Perez and former state Rep. Norma Chavez will face each other in a runoff after securing the top two spots in a four-way runoff to replace retiring Rep. Lina Ortega (D–El Paso). This race marks the only instance this cycle in which a potential Democratic victor, Perez, is being supported by pro-voucher backers. Perez heads into the runoff having received 38% of the vote to Chavez’ 32%.  

In HD 80, the top two vote getters in a four-way Democratic contest, Cecilia Castellano and Rosie Cuellar, will face off to determine who has the privilege of facing Republican Don McLaughlin, who bested both of his primary challengers. The Democratic winner and McLaughlin will face off in November to replace retiring Rep. Tracy King (D–Uvalde) in what is expected to be a highly competitive race. 

Pro-voucher Republican Caroline Fairly won her four-way primary contest in HD 87 outright to replace retiring anti-voucher Rep. Four Price (R–Amarillo).  

Ballot propositions 

Ballot propositions are value statements put forth by the major political parties to the small share of the electorate voting in that party’s primary. The ballot propositions are broadly written to draw in wide support, but the subtext of the ballot propositions refers to more specific and more controversial issues. Although primary ballot propositions have no force of law, they are often used by political parties to help shape party platforms and influence lawmakers affiliated with the party when they vote on proposed legislation. 

The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) had 13 non-binding propositions on its 2024 primary ballot, including propositions on access to public schools for certain immigrants and private school vouchers. Voters were to answer “yes” if they agreed with the statement or “no” if they disagreed. (The Texas Democratic Party did not include any ballot propositions on its 2024 primary ballot.) 

  • Republican Party Proposition No. 4: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe, a case that originated in Texas, that public schools are required to educate undocumented children. Any state law to the contrary would likely head back to the Supreme Court. Republican primary voters approved a proposition Tuesday by a margin of 88% to 11% indicating that they would like that precedent to be overturned. Proposition No. 4 stated: “The Texas Legislature should end all subsidies and public services, including in-state college tuition and enrollment in public schools, for illegal aliens.” 
  • Republican Party Proposition No. 11: This proposition attempts to frame private school vouchers in language that disguises their devastating effects upon public schools and the 5.5 million students they serve. The ballot language read: “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.” Even with the misleading language, this was among the least popular propositions on the Republican ballot, with roughly 79% of Republican primary voters supporting and 21% opposing, a significant decrease from the 88% who supported similar language on the 2022 Republican primary ballot. For more on the real impact of vouchers, check out "Why Vouchers Matter" here on Teach the Vote. 

Keep in mind that current vote tallies are still unofficial as some large counties such as Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant will take longer to fully report their ballot totals. Also, mail-in ballots are still being counted, and some of those are being rejected for noncompliance with new Texas voting laws. There is a six-day period in which those voters can correct mail-in ballots. Recounts are also a possibility in particularly close races. We will update this post as additional information becomes available.  

We will have more information about the runoff contenders and how you can participate in those elections over the next couple of months here on Teach the Vote. 

For complete election results, visit the Texas Secretary of State’s website


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