Analysis: Election Season Headed for Overtime

Posted by Ross Ramsey - Texas Tribune on

The Texas Legislature will start the 2015 session with a handful of empty chairs and unfinished elections.

State Senator Glenn Hegar, a Republican, was elected state comptroller of public accounts, and Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio resigned after President Obama appointed him to be secretary of housing and urban development.

Let the spree begin.

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, having lost the race for lieutenant governor, is running for mayor of her hometown.

Representative Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, was just elected to another term in the House but wants the job Van de Putte is seeking.

Representative Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican who also won re-election, is running for Hegar’s Senate seat.

Representatives José Menéndez and Trey Martinez Fischer, both San Antonio Democrats, are eyeing Van de Putte’s Senate seat.

There is at least one San Antonio candidate for Villarreal’s job, three candidates wanting to succeed Kolkhorst, and somewhere in the land of political dreams, candidates thinking of replacing Menendez or Martinez Fischer, depending on who wins that Senate job.

Quitting the jobs they have now is just as complicated.

Politicians are not like the rest of us, handing in their two weeks’ notice, dancing a little victory jig, packing up the family photos on the desk and moving on. Theirs is a speculative business that sometimes requires them to risk the jobs they have for the chance that another job is available.

After his election as comptroller, Hegar resigned his Senate seat, triggering a special that has attracted five candidates, including Kolkhorst. The Senate is not in session until January, and there is a good chance that his replacement will be elected and sworn in before the Legislature takes up anything momentous.

If Kolkhorst wins, the voters in her House district will go unrepresented until her replacement is picked in a special election that would follow her move. But if she loses the Senate race, she will keep the House job.

Castro’s Washington venture prompted Villarreal to announce for the mayor’s race and to follow his re-election by sending a letter to the governor saying that he would serve out his current term, which ends in January, but would not take the oath for the term that follows. The governor has not set a date for the special election to replace him, but that will be the next step — and the candidates in San Antonio are circling.

Van de Putte finally announced her plans to run for mayor on Wednesday, after days of speculation about whether she would run. She is in the middle of her Senate term and holds an elected position despite her loss in the lieutenant governor’s race. She could simply do that all over again, running for mayor without resigning from the Senate, ensuring herself of a job no matter how the mayor’s race goes.

Instead, she is resigning upon the election and inauguration of her successor, meaning she will be in the Senate until her replacement emerges from a special election and takes the oath of office.

That means the district’s voters will not go without a senator. But they could go without representation if the race for mayor keeps her in San Antonio while the Legislature is handling state business in Austin. Depending on the speed of the election to replace her, she might find herself pulled in two directions and having to decide day by day which of her two jobs — running for mayor or serving as senator — should be ignored.

Villarreal’s chair in the House could be empty at the beginning of the session. And the seats of the other two San Antonio representatives in this chain of opportunity and ambition could grow cold, too, while they run and their replacements, if needed, run.

An empty chair in the 31-member Senate is more likely to matter on a particular issue than one in the 150-member House. Legislators are not covered by resign-to-run laws that force them to choose between the offices they have and the ones they want.

Instead, the election is followed by these aftershocks, and the session will start with a Legislature that is not all there.

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