General Election Recap: November 7, 2018

November 7, 2018

We interrupt our regular schedule of updates from Austin to fill you in on yesterday’s election results, with a focus on prosecutor and legislative elections. (We’re not going to bother with the big statewide or national races, you can get those results from your local fish wrap or the Texas Tribune.) If you have any additions or corrections to our list, please send those updates to Shannon.

Prosecutor elections

We only know of four contested general election races involving prosecutors; here are the results (listed alphabetically by county):

Bexar County CDA: Defense attorney Joe Gonzales (D) defeated defense attorney Tylden Shaeffer (R) in the race to replace Nico LaHood (D), who lost to Gonzales in the primary.

Dallas CDA: Defense attorney and former district judge John Creuzot (D) defeated incumbent (and former district judge) Faith Johnson (R), who had been appointed by Governor Abbott.

Fort Bend DA: Defense attorney Brian Middleton (D) defeated former judge Cliff Vacek (R) and will replace the retiring John Healey (R).

Tarrant County CDA: Incumbent Sharen Wilson (R) defeated defense attorney John Roberts (D).

These changes above bring the total number of newly-elected prosecutors for 2018 to 15 (not counting three additional appointees). For a look at how that compares with historical turnover rates, see this tweet from earlier today.

Statewide judicial races

Stop us if you heard this one before: The GOP’s slate of statewide judicial candidates won in a clean sweep (albeit with margins not quite so large as in past elections, the average spread being approximately six points). This means the state’s two courts of last resort will remain uniformly red. However, Democrats picked up numerous seats across the board at the intermediate court level and actually flipped control of the courts in Austin, Dallas, and Houston (x2).

State legislative races

After seven House and Senate incumbents were defeated in their primaries, the stage was set for even more turnover this week. Exceeding most observers’ expectations, Democrats picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and two seats in the Texas Senate (although Republicans had earlier poached an historically Democratic seat by winning the special election to replace Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), who will soon be headed to federal prison). In races of note, Sens. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) and Konni Burton (R-Colleyville)—both frequent supporters of the Right on Crime movement—lost in districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, while former prosecutor and district judge Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) narrowly prevailed in the other Republican-held senate seat that favored Clinton two years ago. In the state house, there was too much action for us to cover in depth, but flipped seats in the Dallas, Houston, and Austin metro areas could now have a big impact on the speaker’s race. You can forget the rumors from last week about a potential consensus pick, all bets are now off—let the wagering begin anew!

Both House and Senate remain firmly in Republican control, but in the House, Republicans’ 95-55 margin was reduced to 83-67 (the smallest split since 2009), while their Senate margin changed from 20-11 last session to 19-12 for next session, which is the minimum necessary to ensure continued one-party control of the flow of legislation under that chamber’s three-fifths rule. All told, there will be 26 new House members (17 percent turnover) and five new Senators (16 percent turnover), not including one pending Democratic vacancy in Harris County that will be filled by special election at some point during the session.

Scattershot observations in Texas

Here are some random observations that you might find interesting:

  • Yesterday saw the highest turnout (52%) for a gubernatorial cycle in Texas since 1970; it was only 34% just four years ago. Whether that blue-tinged turnout is an anomaly or a new trend is unknown.
  • Courthouse races were probably pre-determined by straight-ticket voting due to the exceedingly high turnout. Early estimates are that 70–75 percent of ballots cast in the ten largest counties were straight-ticket votes. However, this was the last Texas election with straight-ticket voting; the legislature abolished it last session but postponed implementation until the 2020 elections. (Not early enough to save the author of that legislation, though, who lost his Denton County House race in the blue wave that swept through parts of the Metroplex).
  • For the second election in a row, all GOP officeholders on the ballot from the Harris and Dallas County courthouses were defeated. The courthouses in seven of the ten largest counties in the state (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Fort Bend) are now either trending blue or already completely blue—which, by the way, is a big reason why the Republican-controlled legislature is ending straight-ticket voting.
  • Some state and local GOP officeholders in traditional party strongholds like Collin, Denton, Tarrant, and Williamson Counties saw their comfortable victory margins shrink or evaporate altogether.
  • Dallas County’s 14-member House delegation will now include just two Republicans next session—Angie Chen Button and Morgan Meyer—both of whom barely survived re-election yesterday. Last session, the delegation was evenly split, 7–7.

The “tl;dr” version of all this? Lots of Texans voted in this election, urban areas got bluer, rural areas went or stayed redder, and the suburbs are in flux but trending blue the past two election cycles.

Criminal justice issues elsewhere

For those of you interested in national trends, the following ballot measures were voted upon in these states (click here for a sample list of other states’ ballot issues):

  • Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma approved versions of “Marsy’s Law” to expand victims’ state constitutional rights (similar to what Texas has long had).
  • Michigan legalized recreational marijuana use by adults.
  • Missouri and Utah approved or expanded medical marijuana.
  • North Dakota rejected marijuana legalization.
  • Ohio rejected a ballot measure to reduce felony drug penalties to misdemeanors and facilitate the early release of some felons.

Other random election notes

For the political geeks out there, here are some random items we came across this morning that we found interesting:

  • In Washington, D.C., this is the first time since the Reagan Era (1981-87) that the Democrats will control the House while the Republicans hold the Senate and White House.
  • Conversely, there is only one state with a divided legislature (Minnesota); all other state legislatures are controlled by one party, the highest number since 1914.
  • Mitt Romney is first person to be governor of one state (MA) and senator from another (UT) since Sam Houston, who was governor of TN before becoming a senator for TX, did so.

The horses are in the starting gate

Bill filing begins on Monday. Yes, THIS upcoming Monday. The first week of bill filing usually sees 400–500 bills filed, and we will start reviewing and tracking them for you as always. To follow along with what is being filed, be sure to use our bill tracking buttons on the Legislative page of our website and contact Shannon with any questions. But remember—no matter how good or bad a pre-filed bill looks, nothing can happen to it for another 60–90 days, so keep your powder dry!

Quotes from the general election

“It’s not about wins or losses or anything like that, it’s about getting justice for some of these victims.”

Matt Powell, retiring Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney, on his legacy in office. Matt will start serving as the new general counsel for Midland ISD this month.

“He is in a league of his own in the Democrat [sic] Party. If he doesn’t use that to run for president, then I don’t know what he’d do with it.”

Jeff Roe, chief strategist for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Houston), after narrowly defeating Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso)

“We know we have rebuilding to do in our urban areas. Our efforts for 2020 have already begun.” 

James Dickey, Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.

“It’s very much like someone calling Apple and asking for support on their iPhone 1.”

Steven Sockwell, vice president of marketing at Hart InterCivic, on why some voters had trouble using the company’s electronic voting machines that are more than a decade old.

“The D sweep is [sic] Harris County is only going to exacerbate the state government’s war on local government. And it is going to be bad for everyone.”

Tweet by Evan Mintz, Houston Chronicle Deputy Editor.

“He was releasing everybody. Apparently, he was saying that’s what the voters wanted.”

Harris County public defender Steven Halpert, after juvenile court judge Glenn Devlin released nearly every juvenile who appeared before him this morning. Devlin lost his re-election campaign yesterday.

“Welcome to the #2020 election cycle.”

Buzzkill tweet this morning by Donald Trump, Jr.