Texas Politics

Status quo holds in the Texas Senate

A look at the dais on the Texas Senate floor on Oct. 8, 2015
A look at the dais on the Texas Senate floor on Oct. 8, 2015 Texas Tribune

While a few new faces will be added to the Texas Senate, the partisan makeup of the upper chamber will stay the same — 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats will take the floor when the Legislature convenes in January.

The nine contested Senate races on the 2016 general election ballot turned out as expected. In Senate District 24, Republican Dawn Buckingham of Austin beat Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder by a wide margin in the only open seat that was contested by both major parties. Buckingham, who defeated state Rep. Susan King in the GOP primary runoff, was vying to replace Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who will retire at the end of his current term.

Buckingham leads 72 percent to 28 percent with most early votes and 15 percent of Election Day precincts reporting in the district, which includes roughly 20,000 square miles and goes from the northwest suburbs of Austin up to Abilene.

"I am humbled to be the first woman elected to represent Senate District 24, and the first Republican elected to the Texas Senate from Travis County in our state’s history,” Buckingham said in a statement. “We started this run for the Texas Senate to make a positive impact on the lives of millions of Texans. We thank the Lord our God for His guidance, for our friends who believed in us, and for our family and staff who sacrificed with us along the way.”

She'll join state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, among newcomers in the Senate. Hughes, who didn't face a general election opponent, will replace Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, who retired after the most recent session.

The only other non-incumbent poised to win a seat is Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles of Houston, who will take the Senate District 13 seat vacated by Rodney Ellis. Miles' only opponent was Libertarian Joshua Rohn, who is trailing 93 percent to 7 percent.

Three other incumbents faced major party opponents on the ballot. Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, defeated Republican Peter Flores. He led 56 percent to 41 percent with 20 percent of precincts reporting. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, leads Republican Velma Arellano 69 percent to 31 percent with 29 percent of precincts reporting. And Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, defeated Democrat Michael Collins. Birdwell led 70 percent to 30 percent, with 37 percent reporting.

The rest of the senators in contested races are cruising to victory against third-party opponents. They are Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio.

Experts said that the status quo will hold in large part because of the size and shape of Texas Senate districts. Most boundaries are drawn in a way that makes the incumbent Democrat or Republican a huge favorite each election. And the districts are so large and expensive to campaign in that challengers are disincentivized from mounting what looks like a quixotic bid.

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