December 16, 2019
GOP Lawmakers Scramble in Strategy Redesign
with Democrats Poised for 2020 Water Wall Ride
Legislature & Congress Contest Ratings
Texas House Primary Candidates 2020
By Mike Hailey
The Republican primary warring that raged for 10 years on the Texas House battlefield has subsided substantially with the GOP staging about one-third as many competitive fights in round one in 2020 as the ruling party did here last year.
Ten House Republicans have primary opposition in March when 17 Democratic colleagues will be facing first-round rivals. But a pair of GOP primary bouts in races that feature tea party conservatives as incumbents appear to have the most potential for fireworks with the candidate lineups formalized after last week's filing deadline.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park could face the most difficult test for an incumbent Republican in a primary duel with Bob Hoskins - a Baytown city council member who served as the school board president as well.
Rookie Republican State Rep. Jared Patterson of Frisco could be at risk to some degree as well with Frisco financial advisor James Trombley as a challenger who's running as an American warrior on a heroic mission that began as a high school senior on 9/11.
All of the incumbents with primary opposition on both sides of the aisle in House races will be running as the early favorites. But Patterson and Cain could find some of their support on the right to have cooled as a result of alliances that they forged with first-term GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen to the dismay of conservatives.
Democratic State Reps. Harold Dutton of Houston, Alex Dominguez of Brownsville, Tracy King of Uvalde and Sergio Munoz Jr. of Mission could have cause for concern for different reasons in fights with foes who are taking aim at them in March.
The House's second-longest serving Democrat in his 35th year, Dutton drew three first-round opponents in a field that includes Jerry Davis as a Houston City Council member who's being forced out of the local post by term limits. Dominguez is a freshman lawmaker who's had former Cameron County Democratic chair Amber Medina running against him for most of the past year after taking the oath for the first time in January. Dominguez unseated longtime lawmaker Rene Oliveira in a primary runoff last year.
King is dueling Danny Valdez - a former county judge in Webb County where half of the incumbent's constituents are based. Munoz is locked in a belated rematch with Abraham Padron in a border district where the challenger had massive support from tort reform forces in a 2016 encounter that the incumbent won with 60 percent of the primary vote.
The March 3 primary election will mark the first time that Democrats have had more contested primaries than the GOP in the competition for the House since Republicans captured the majority at the polls in 2002.
The number of Republican challengers in House contests has fallen dramatically from 2018 when 27 incumbents drew primary opposition. That could be due in part to the Republicans' recognition on the need to reserve resources for the general election next year when Democrats have a shot to take the lower chamber back with a net gain nine seats or more.
But the sharp decline in the number of GOP representatives with primary foe could be a product of a bipartisan peace that Bonnen fostered in a chamber where establishment and conservative Republicans had waged ferocious primary battles throughout Joe Straus' stint as the GOP speaker before the current leader took over early this year.
Cain and Patterson had been popular with hard-line conservatives before joining the Bonnen team after he claimed the gavel in January. Bonnen brought most of the tea party renegades into the fold amid the assumption that he'd have their back in campaigns next year. But the tea party duo and the other House Republicans with opening round opposition could find themselves out on their own without the help from Bonnen that they'd expected before his unraveling in the midst of a colleague hit list scandal.
A pair of rookie House Democrats - State Reps. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton and Erin Zwiener of Driftwood - are facing primary challengers in races in districts where Republicans will be trying to wrestle back seats that the wave last fall flipped from red to blue. The first-round opposition could drain resources that Zwiener and Beckley will need against Republican foes next fall.
The other Republicans with primary rivals - State Reps. Dan Flynn of Van, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville, Geanie Morrison of Victoria, Chris Paddie of Marshall, Dennis Paul of Houston, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Phil Stephenson of Wharton and Dan Huberty of Humble - had all been aligned with Straus during his final session as speaker in 2017 when Cain had been a Texas Freedom Caucus adversary.
The list of House Democrats with primary opposition includes State Reps. Alma Allen of Houston, Ron Reynolds of Missouri City, Bobby Guerra of Mission, Jarvis Johnson of Houston, Garnet Coleman of Houston, Senfronia Thompson of Houston, Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville, Carl Sherman of DeSoto and Shawn Thierry of Houston.
Allen, a 15-year House veteran, will be trying to avoid a runoff in a district where three Democrats have her in their sights in 2020. Allen's son is a State Board of Education member who's competing for the House next year in a swing district in Fort Bend County on the outskirts of the Houston area.
Reynolds - a Fort Bend County legislator who entered the lower chamber nine years ago - has been a target in re-election races after spending time in jail for a misdemeanor conviction on a state barratry law that's designed to prevent ambulance chasing. But Reynolds cruised to a re-election win in 2018 after beating a primary foe with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Cain had unseated a longtime incumbent who'd been a high-ranking Straus lieutenant in a primary runoff battle that he won by 23 votes in 2016. Cain had been bracing for a primary bout last year with a local elected leader whose campaign never materialized. But Hoskins could pose a more imposing challenge that any of Cain's former formal and would-be opponents as an opponent who could have business interests and other establishment forces in his corner for the upcoming primary showdown.