On January 8, 2019, the 86th Legislature will convene and the 150 members of the House of Representatives will cast what may be their most important vote of the entire session, a vote prescribed by the Texas Constitution: “The House of Representatives shall, when it first assembles, organize temporarily, and thereupon proceed to the election of a Speaker from its own members.”
The election of a speaker necessitates that members of the House give up some of their power in order to empower a speaker. The speaker is then entrusted to organize and lead the House. It’s a significant decision for every member.
Running for speaker is a test of a member’s ability to build a broad coalition and convince colleagues he or she has the leadership qualities to preside over a House whose members have varied and competing interests. Every speaker in modern times, in building a winning coalition, has done so by first building a bipartisan coalition. Next year, the new speaker, whoever he or she is, will be elected only after earning bipartisan support.
With three announced candidates and likely several more waiting to jump in, the Democratic Caucus is taking the opportunity to look at what the next leadership should look like.
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston has agreed to chair our caucus’ Committee on Governance and Practices of the Texas House. She and other members are identifying the key attributes of a new speakership that our caucus can unify behind and advocate for. Additionally, the committee is evaluating the overall governance of the House and will make recommendations on possible improvements.
Our proactive focus is to find consensus on the type of leadership that works best for all Texans, regardless of party. It’s a conversation our caucus will further explore during a May retreat in Houston, and one I know will continue through next January.
Just as the eventual list of speaker candidates remains unknown at this point, so does the partisan makeup of the House in the next session. After first predicting Republicans would never nominate Donald Trump in 2016 and then confidently dismissing any serious chance of him actually being elected president, I am no longer in the political prediction business. Therefore, I won’t try to guess what the numbers will be in the House after the November election. However, there is good reason to believe the House Democratic Caucus will be bigger than it is today.
A marked increase in Democratic primary turnout compared to 2014 is one leading indicator. For example, in Dallas County, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 50,000 votes — a huge swing from the 14,000-vote advantage Republicans had in the county in 2014. With several competitive races in Dallas County and elsewhere across the state, there are significant opportunities for Democrats to gain seats in the House.
And of course, the party of a president typically loses seats nationwide in mid-term elections. With President Trump’s historically low approval ratings, there is no reason to think Republicans can escape this reality in 2018.
With the potential for so much change in the November elections, we still have a long way to go until the speaker’s race really takes shape. That’s still eight months — and hundreds of presidential tweets — away.
When the election dust settles, we look forward to working with our Republican colleagues to make a decision about a new speaker, one who will allow members of the House to serve their districts well and address the issues important to our constituents.