Democrats in Texas had some good news on Election Day. They gained seven seats in the Texas House, enough to end the Republican supermajority in the lower chamber. They also retained all their seats in the Texas Senate.
This is what counts as progress these days for beleaguered Democrats in the Lone Star State. While their gains won't change many policies, let alone people's lives, Democrats will be slightly more relevant. Now at least it will matter if they show up, because the Texas House can't conduct business without them. In other words, Republicans won't be able to do whatever they want.
Without a two-thirds majority, the Republican caucus itself won’t make up a quorum. So Democrats will regain their biggest weapon for blocking legislation -- leaving the state to deny the House a quorum. They famously employed this tactic in 2003, fleeing to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to temporarily prevent a mid-decade redistricting plan engineered by Tom DeLay, then the majority leader of the U.S. House. Without a supermajority, the Republicans also can’t suspend the state House rules, which requires a two-thirds vote.
Of course, they will still have power to do plenty. With a 95-55 edge, the Republicans will control which bills come to the House floor, where most legislation requires a simple majority to pass.
Moreover, the seven-seat gain in the House wasn’t a surprise. Democrats are still recovering from a disastrous 2010 election, when Republicans picked up an astounding 22 seats. The Republicans had little hope of maintaining their 100-seat majority. The numbers just weren’t there. Most races Democrats won on Tuesday were Democratic-leaning districts that Republicans somehow captured in 2010. In that sense, Democrats simply met already low expectations.
Look for Republicans to dominate the agenda when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. They promise to pass a school voucher program, to make another run at carrying out a strict voter-identification law and to crack down on undocumented immigrants. A few extra Democratic votes won’t make much difference.
(Dave Mann is editor of the Texas Observer.)
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