GOP expands control of Texas House of Representatives

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Republicans widened their majority in the Texas House of Representatives, taking 22 seats from Democrats Tuesday night.

The 99 Republicans and 51 Democrats in the new state house must balance the budget, bearing the burden of a deficit that could be as high as $25 million. Texas Republican Party spokesman Chris Elam said the “seismic” shift is even more dramatic than what the U.S. saw in the national house.

“It’s a shift that is historic not just in Texas but in national history,” Elam said. “It’s hard to over appreciate the gravitas of this situation. With a 100-50 in the house, conservative principles are the name of the game now.”

Republicans and Democrats disagreed on the reasons for the massive gains. Republicans touted grassroots campaigning and strong conservative Texas values, while Democrats suggested that Republicans simply rode the wave of anti-Washington sentiment that has swept the country in the past few months.

“From the top to the bottom of the ballot, Texas Republicans have run against Obama,” said Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray. “They have talked about Obama and Pelosi. We don’t know a thing about their priorities in Texas or their plans for the $25 billion deficit.”

Central Texas saw several Republicans take seats from Democrats, including Valinda Bolton’s loss to Paul Workman in District 47, Jason Isaac’s victory over Patrick Rose in District 45 and Larry Gonzales’ 20-point win over freshman incumbent Diana Maldonado in District 52. Democrat Donna Howard kept her seat in District 48 by only 15 votes.

“In the Texas house, Republicans had a better night than many were predicting,” said UT public affairs lecturer Sherri Greenberg. “There were a lot of races in play in the Texas house, up to 25 or so. Some of these seats in Travis County and Central Texas were Republican seats that Democrats held onto, and those Democrats like Patrick Rose had real opponents in a big Republican year.”

Rose, a seven-year incumbent, said he is proud of his work in the house during his terms, and he hopes Isaac continues to prioritize District 45. Isaac said his top priorities include balancing the budget to cut spending without raising taxes, improving benefits for public school teachers and hot legislative issues such as promoting concealed carry on college campuses.

“It’s about getting back to fiscal responsibility, working with budget problems we have and cutting spending,” Isaac said. “I want us to be the model. I want businesses to aspire to be as efficient as the Texas state government.”

Legislative topics such as concealed carry and immigration are likely to see much more time on the house floor with such a strong conservative majority, Greenberg said. However, she, like Republican and Democratic candidates and representatives, said tackling the state’s budget deficit must be a top priority.

“It’s going to be a tough budget year, there has never been any doubt about that,” Greenberg said. “But there is certainly going to be much more pressure on not raising taxes because that’s the platform people were running on. That’s a tough situation when you’re looking at more than $21 billion in the hole.”

Texas Republicans recognize the responsibility they have to the Texans who elected them and will act on that mandate to return Texas to conservative principles, Elam said.

“This is like being given the keys to the car, and it’s time to put up or shut up in terms of what we’re going to stand for in policy and the future of our state,” Elam said. “Because in the future of our nation, Texas is going to lead the way.”