Democrats’ Path to Texas House Majority Runs Through North Texas

Austin could be a changed place when legislators reconvene in 2021.
Austin could be a changed place when legislators reconvene in 2021. Wikicommons
The task ahead of Texas Democrats is like the one Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of the 2010-11 Mavericks faced before that season's playoffs: monumental, but squarely within the realm of possibility. The rewards are similar too, for both groups, should they find success. The Mavs turned back the tide of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. Texas Democrats face similarly stacked opposition — the decades-in-power Texas Republican Party.

Democrats' only real hope for getting a piece of Texas' governing pie on their plate is turning over the nine seats they need to hold a majority in the Texas House. The Texas Senate remains out of reach, thanks to the dearth of vulnerable incumbents on the ballot this year. The same goes for the major statewide offices, which won't be up for grabs again until 2022.

Ever the optimists — whether such optimism is warranted or not — the Texas Democrat Party rolled out its House takeover road map Monday. It runs right through Dallas and its suburbs.

"Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country. Republicans see the writing on the wall, and they’re scared. Flipping the Texas State House is the top strategic imperative for the Texas Democratic Party, because we know that when we flip the Texas House, we will reshape our nation," said Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party's executive director.

Of the top nine races Democrats have identified as targets, five are in North Texas. Each of the districts targeted voted for U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke in his U.S. Senate race against Sen. Ted Cruz, but elected a Republican to the Texas House.

Two Dallas County Republican incumbents, Park Cities Rep. Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button, who represents a swath of the suburbs that includes parts of Richardson, Garland and Rowlett, are Democrats' target Nos. 2 and 3. O'Rourke won Meyer's district by 15 points in 2018. He won Button's by 10. If Meyer and Button lose, every House district in Dallas County will be represented by a Democrat.

"The Texas House has a Democratic lean, and in 2020 the Texas House will flip.” — Andrew Reagan

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“Democrats head into 2020 well-positioned to flip the Texas House. Our strong and diverse field of candidates offer a compelling vision for the future of Texas. Our candidates stand in stark contrast to House Republicans who are profoundly out of touch with their rapidly diversifying districts," said Andrew Reagan, the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee's executive director.

Texas Democrats and outside organizations plan to spend millions in the targeted districts, building on momentum that saw the party make significant gains, including a dozen flipped House seats, in 2018.

“Republicans see the same data we do," Reagan said. "That’s why five Republicans in targeted seats have already decided to retire instead of facing defeat in November. Together with the TDP and allied organizations, we are coordinating an unprecedented effort to win these targeted seats. The Texas House has a Democratic lean, and in 2020 the Texas House will flip.”

Shawn Terry, one of the Democrats hoping to replace Meyer in House District 108, first ran for office in 1998 as a Republican. His decision to switch parties mirrors what's happening in his district, he told the Observer in October.

"The district's changed in two primary respects," Terry said. "First of all, there's been extraordinary growth in Uptown and East Dallas, and that growth is predominantly Democrats like me, I live in Uptown. ... Secondarily — and importantly, Beto carried the Park Cities. (State Sen.) Nathan Johnson and (U.S. Rep.) Colin Allred did very well in what were traditionally Republican areas. ... What's happening is the Republican Party is disenfranchising and losing educated voters. So candidly, the more educated a district, the more likely it is switching from Republican to Democrat."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young