This year’s Legislature will have a different look and feel to it — from top to bottom.
No longer in the shadow of the state’s longest-serving governor, lawmakers will watch Gov.-elect Greg Abbott take the oath of office one week into the session and lay out his vision for Texas.
By his side will be Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, who is expected to guide the Senate in addressing the new governor’s list of priorities.
On Tuesday, three new members who claimed high-profile victories last year will formally join the Tarrant County delegation: Sen.-elect Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Reps.-elect Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, and Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington.
“There will be a combination of the old and the new,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant. “The [Tarrant County] delegation is in good stead … if they work together and listen to each other.
“There are common goals to take care of the hometown,” he said. “As long as they execute along those lines, they’ll be OK.”
Abbott said he’s ready to work with the Legislature.
“The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is home to several new legislators, each bringing unique ideas to the table,” he said last month. “I look forward to working with all members of the Legislature to accomplish our shared goals of strengthening our economy, elevating our education system to be No. 1 in the nation, securing our border and preserving the very freedoms that have made Texas the envy of the nation.”
At least a few local members are expected to be key players when the session starts Tuesday:
▪ Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the dean of the Tarrant County delegation, serving in the Senate since 1993. She was tapped last year to guide the Senate Finance Committee — an appointment many believe she will keep once Patrick takes office. The powerful committee generates the Senate version of the state’s two-year budget.
Nelson said the local delegation will have significant influence this session. “I have no doubt our presence will be felt and our voices will be heard, as will the voices of the North Texas region,” she said.
▪ Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, a restaurant owner who has served in the House since 2001. Geren is a chief lieutenant for House Speaker Joe Straus and is in charge of the powerful House Administration Committee.
He also believes local lawmakers will make a mark this year. “I think as long as everybody is down here for the right reason, the delegation will have a good impact on the Legislature,” he said.
▪ Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who begins his third term. He was chosen last year to replace a nationally known strategist and lead the campaign of Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth state senator who lost the governor’s race. Turner, No. 2 in the House Democratic leadership, first claimed public office in 2008, ousting Republican Rep. Bill Zedler of Arlington. He lost a re-election bid in 2010, then successfully ran for the newly drawn District 101 in 2012 and 2014.
“One must be willing to work with his or her colleagues to find common ground and solutions,” he said. “I look forward to working with my new colleagues to focus on the issues that really matter to the people of our state — a fully funded public education system, increased access to healthcare and good-paying jobs.”
With turnover comes change, and Harvey Kronberg, editor and publisher of the Quorum Report, an Austin-based online political newsletter, said he is concerned that campaign partisanship from some Tarrant County members could spill over onto the House and Senate floors.
“The conventional wisdom is that Tarrant County will have a hard time because you have firebrands in the delegation who don’t understand the Legislature is 20 percent partisan and 80 percent [business],” he said.
“There’s a big learning curve for the freshmen.”
Burton, the newest senator from Tarrant County, said she will work hard to move “our great country in the right direction.”
She called the Tarrant County delegation “a great team with plenty of different backgrounds and experience to offer the people of Texas.”
“I hope our influence, however large, is used to help state government perform its duties in a cost-effective and thoughtful way,” she said.
Besides the freshmen, a few local members are preparing for their second terms, knowing much more about the process than they did two years ago.
“Some of these [lawmakers] — freshmen who were on the fence last time around — have decided they want to play more seriously this time around,” Kronberg said. “While the entire delegation is pretty conservative, they understand politics is both collaboration and confrontation. Some of these sophomores are in a pretty good position.”
One of those sophomores, Rep. Craig Goldman, said he wants to see the delegation work together to benefit North Texas.
“It is my hope that our delegation can stand united on issues that would positively impact our city and work together to defend our city from interests that would otherwise harm the strong business climate we have worked so hard to establish,” said Goldman, R-Fort Worth.
Another sophomore, Rep. Nicole Collier, said local lawmakers will help set the pace for the entire Legislature.
“I believe the Tarrant County delegation will continue to act as leaders in the areas of healthcare, industry, transportation and the creation of job opportunities,” said Collier, D-Fort Worth.
Kronberg said he’s interested in seeing how Tarrant County lawmakers fare.
“It’s not the strongest delegation they’ve ever had,” he said. “But people constantly rise above expectations you have for them. Others end up totally imploding and not even coming close to what they are capable of. You don’t know until you watch the interaction.”
No longer there
Some note that the delegation will also be known for what’s missing:
▪ Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat who lost her bid for governor and staged two filibusters in recent years protesting abortion restrictions and school funding cuts.
▪ Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat who had served in the House since 1997 and was one of the most outspoken and liberal members of the lower chamber.
▪ Rep. Diane Patrick, an Arlington Republican, former teacher and professor who was known as a watchdog on transportation and a key voice for public schools.
“You’ve got turnover with some significant personalities,” said Miller, the political consultant. “I think the people coming in will serve well. And there are high expectations out there for them.”
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610