Texas 2020 election recap: What we know so far

After one of the most unusual campaign seasons we’ve ever experienced, the 2020 election is finally (mostly) in the books! While we’re still awaiting official results in many races, a general picture of the new political landscape is beginning to take shape. It should be noted that some mail-in ballots, particularly those that were postmarked on Election Day and any votes cast by military members serving overseas, have yet to be counted. Some close results could still change once those outstanding ballots are processed.

Republicans look like they will hold onto their majority in the Texas House of Representatives, which Democrats had hoped to capture by flipping at least nine competitive House seats. The current split is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, and the early returns showed Republicans narrowly fending off Democratic challengers in all but one race. State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) conceded to Democratic opponent Ann Johnson Tuesday night on Twitter. That race appears to be offset by Democratic state Rep. Gina Calanni’s (D-Katy) loss to Republican Mike Schofield, who held the seat before Calanni defeated him in 2018.

Control of the House means the next speaker would be drawn from among Republican ranks, and the politicking among GOP candidates for speaker continued through election night and into this morning. State Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), who chaired the House State Affairs Committee during the 2019 legislative session, announced Wednesday on Twitter that he had gathered the votes necessary to be elected speaker, although that election cannot take place until the Legislature meets in January.

The speaker will appoint committees and set the House agenda for the upcoming legislative session, beginning with important decisions about how to conduct the physical process of legislating and whether the House should conduct its business at the Texas Capitol or an alternate location in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Republican control of the House would also guarantee GOP control of the redistricting process, ensuring that the new voting maps will favor Republicans for the next 10 years.

In the Texas Senate, former state Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) was elected to succeed retiring state Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). Democrats reclaimed a seat lost to Republican Pete Flores in a 2018 special election. Former state Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) defeated Sen. Flores by a relatively narrow margin of 10,000 votes. The Democratic win shifts the split in the Texas Senate to 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats, which would give Democrats the ability to block controversial legislation under the current Senate’s rule requiring three-fifths of members present and voting to consent to hearing a bill on the floor. The Texas Senate had previously boasted a long history of requiring a supermajority to pass legislation, a rule that was intended to prevent the chamber from becoming a partisan theater. Republican Dan Patrick immediately lowered that threshold from two-thirds after his election as lieutenant governor, and he has already announced his intention to lower the threshold to a simple majority should Democrats gain more seats.

Democrats appear on track to gain one seat on the 15-member State Board of Education (SBOE). Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau leads Republican Lani Popp in District 5, which was previously held by retiring Member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio). Democrats had hoped to pick up two additional seats, which would have wrested the board majority from Republicans. Instead, the new board looks like it will be split between nine Republicans and six Democrats. The board will feature new members from both parties, including Republicans Audrey Young from East Texas and Jay Johnson from the panhandle, both of whom replaced retiring members. Over the past few years, the SBOE has become markedly less partisan and even at times a model of bipartisan productivity. We’re optimistic that the new class will continue along that path.

At the state level, Democrats’ hopes that Texas would step into the blue or purple column were dashed Tuesday night. Republican Donald Trump won 52% of the presidential vote in Texas, which is about the same share of Texas voters that he won in 2016. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn defeated Democratic challenger MJ Hegar by 10 percentage points, which was roughly double the margin that separated Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018.

Stay tuned to our blog here on Teach the Vote for more detailed election results as we obtain more finalized information.

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