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All-Republican runoff set for vacant Texas U.S. House seat

Susan Wright, widow of late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, will face State. Rep. Jake Ellzey

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ARLINGTON, Texas (CFP) — Susan Wright, the widow of the late Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, claimed first place Saturday in a special election to fill his Texas’s 6th U.S. House District seat and will now face fellow Republican State Rep. Jake Ellzey in a runoff.

Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez finished just 354 votes behind Ellzey, narrowly missing a chance to set up her party to flip a suburban district in metro Dallas-Fort Worth that Donald Trump carried by just 3 points in November.

Michael Wood — a businessman and former Marine Corps officer who ran openly in the race as an anti-Trump Republican and charged that the GOP has devolved into a “cult of personality” — finished ninth in the 23-person field, showing the limits of that strategy in pro-Trump Texas.

Susan Wright and Jake Ellzey

In a low-turnout Saturday special election with a crowded field, Wright came in first with 15,052 votes (19%), with Ellzey coming in second with 10,851 (14%) and Sanchez in third with 10,497 (13%).

The final day of the contest was rocked by a robocall made in the district accusing Wright of murdering her husband, who died in February from COVID-19 while being treated for cancer. Her campaign contacted the FBI to investigate.

The runoff will be something of a rematch of the Republican runoff for the seat in 2018, when Ron Wright defeated Ellzey to represent the district, which includes Arlington and parts of Tarrant County, along with Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

Susan Wright has been endorsed by Donald Trump. Ellzey has the support of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who will set the date for the runoff.

Sanchez had been the Democratic nominee against Ron Wright in 2018, a race chronicled in the Showtime documentary “Surge.” But this time around, she was unable to coalesce enough of the Democratic vote to win a spot in the all-party contest, with the second and third-place Democrats in the field — Shawn Lassiter and Lydia Bean — winning nearly 10,000 votes between them.

The race — the second special election for a Republican-held seat since Trump’s loss in November — drew national attention due to a number of colorful candidates who entered the wide-open contest.

Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler who was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for a House seat in the Las Vegas area in 2020, parachuted into Texas to try again, airing an ad in which he carried an assault rifle and vowed to “strip power” from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a stance that raised eyebrows in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

He finished in 11th place.

Sery Kim, a Korean-American who served in the Small Business Administration under Trump, drew criticism when she said during a forum that she did not want Chinese immigrants in the United States “at all” and blamed them for bringing  COVID-19 into the United States.

She won just 888 votes and finished 16th.

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New Census figures show 5-seat shift in Southern U.S. House districts

Texas, Florida and North Carolina gain seats; West Virginia loses a seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Census Bureau released population totals for reapportionment of U.S. House seats Monday that will alter the size of delegations in four Southern states.

Fast-growing Texas will be the biggest winner, gaining two seats to take its delegation to 38 members. Florida will get one new seat to go to 28, and North Carolina will gain one seat to go to 14.

However, West Virginia will lose one of its three seats, which could force Republican incumbents to run against each other in newly configured, larger districts.

West Virginia’s new delegation will be its smallest in history. The Mountaineer State has had at least three members of Congress since it entered the Union in 1863 and had as many as six in the 1950s.

Alabama dodged a bullet, keeping all of its seven seats. Some projections prior to release of the final numbers had shown the Yellowhammer State losing a seat.

Georgia will also not gain a seat for the first time in 40 years.

The new numbers will set off a legislative scramble in all four states, as new lines will have to be drawn.

Republicans will be in total control of redrawing lines in all four states. While North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, state law doesn’t give him authority to veto reapportionment bills.

However, Texas and North Carolina are covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires them to preserve electoral opportunities for minority candidates. In addition, a constitutional amendment passed in Florida in 2010 outlaws gerrymandering lines based on political considerations.

Legislators in West Virginia will have to decide which of the state’s three GOP House members — David McKinley, Carol Miller and Alex Mooney — to draw into the same district. As there are no statewide or Senate races in 2022, House members may be left with the option of competing in a primary or bowing out of Congress.

In Texas, due to demographic trends, Republican legislators may have to draw at least one majority Latino district, likely to be Democratic, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But they could try to maximize Republican chances across the rest of the map, including helping out incumbents who survived Democratic challenges in 2018 and 2020.

No matter now the lines are drawn, litigation is likely in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, states where maps drawn after the 2010 Census were subject to lengthy court fights that resulted in court-ordered map redraws in all three states.

While Virginia is not gaining or losing a seat, its lines could also be substantially redrawn by a new independent commission. The maps after 2010 were drawn by Republicans, who have since lost control of the legislature and governorship, and then later redrawn by a federal court after a legal fight.

The Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature implemented an independent redistricting commission earlier this year.

Also, in Georgia, Republicans may redraw the map in metro Atlanta to target two Democratic incumbents — Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — by combining Democratic areas currently in both of their districts into a single district, which could force one of them out of Congress.

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Texas U.S. Rep. Rob Wright dies after battle with COVID-19

Arlington Republican’s death opens up a potentially competitive House seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

DALLAS (CFP) — Three months after being elected to a second term in Congress, Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Wright died Sunday after battling COVID-19 and lung cancer, become the first sitting member of Congress to die during the pandemic.

A statement from his office said Wright died peacefully at a hospital in Dallas with his wife, Susan, at his side. He had announced January 21 that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been hospitalized for the past two weeks.

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas

Wright, 67, had been diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2019, about seven months after arriving in Congress, but ran for re-election in November as he continued treatment. His final vote in Congress was against the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

Wright’s death opens up a vacancy in Texas’s 6th U.S. House District in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs.

Democrats had targeted Wright’s seat as a pickup opportunity in 2020, but he defeated Democrat Stephen Daniel by nearly 9 points. However, the special election will present a new dynamic because candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two vote-getters meeting in a runoff if no one gains a majority.

In the 2020 election, Trump only carried the district by 3 points over President Joe Biden. About 47% of the district’s residents identify as African American, Latino or Asian.

While Wright is the first sitting member of Congress to die from COVID-19, the pandemic claimed Republican U.S. Rep-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana, who died in December before being sworn in.

Prior to his election to Congress, Wright had served as a city councilman in Arlington and as the tax assessor in Tarrant County. He was also chief of staff for his predecessor in the House, former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, who retired in 2019.

The district includes southeast Tarrant County and Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

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South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison picked as new Democratic National Committee chair

President-elect Joe Biden also names Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Texas U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela as vice chairs

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two months after coming up short in a $130-million quest to flip a U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina, Jaime Harrison has been picked by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Biden also named Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas as two of four vice chairs of the party, putting Southerners in three key positions atop a party that made some headway in 2020 after struggling for relevance in the region.

Jaime Harrison

In a statement, Biden said the new team leaders “represent the very best of the Democratic Party.”

“We need to elect Democrats across our country and up and down the ballot. To do that is going to take tireless leadership committed to strengthening Democratic infrastructure across our states,” he said. “I know they will get the job done.”

Reacting to his selection on Twitter, Harrison said he was “humbled and excited” by his selection.

“Together, we’ll organize everywhere, invest in state parties, expand the map, and elect Democrats who will be champions for the working people of this country,” he said.

While the selections of Harrison, Bottoms and Vela will still have to be ratified by the full national committee, Democrats have traditionally allowed incoming presidents to have full control of party leadership.

Harrison, 44, a former aide to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, served as chair of the Palmetto State’s Democratic Party from 2013 to 2017, before making an unsuccessful run for national DNC chair.

Last year, he ran against Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, raising and spending more than $130 million on the race by building a nationwide fundraising network. But despite some polling showing the race to be close, Graham beat him by more than 10 points in November.

Biden’s selection of Harrison had been expected after Clyburn, a key backer of Biden during last year’s South Carolina primary, endorsed his candidacy.

Bottoms, in her first term as mayor, will lead the DNC’s efforts in civic engagement and voter protection. She had also been a Biden surrogate during the campaign and was given consideration as his vice presidential running mate.

Vela, who represents the Rio Grande Valley in Congress, was another early Biden backer. He had reportedly been considered for a post in the new Cabinet but was not selected.

Neither Bottoms or Vela will have to give up their elected post to serve as DNC vice chairs.

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25 new Southern U.S. House members, 2 senators sworn in Sunday

Freshmen group includes youngest member in nearly 60 years, wave of Republican women

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Members of the new 117th Congress will be sworn into office on Sunday, including 25 new Southern U.S. House members and two new Southern senators.

The Southern House freshmen include seven Republican women, part of a wave elected in November that more the doubled the number of GOP women in the chamber, and 25-year-old Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who is the youngest member of the House sworn in since 1965.

Also among the new Southern House members is former White House doctor Ronny Jackson, whom President Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to elevate to Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018. He will represent now represent the Texas Panhandle.

Republican Stephanie Bice from Oklahoma City is making history as the first Iranian-American to serve in Congress. Her father emigrated from Iran in the 1970s.

Byron Donalds, the new member representing Southwest Florida, will be one of just two African American Republicans in the House and three in Congress overall.

Full list of new Southern House members at bottom of story

Clockwise from top left: Cawthorn, Bice, Donalds, Tuberville, Sessions, Greene

In the Senate, Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, and Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, will join a Southern contingent that now includes 25 Republicans and just three Democrats, after Tuberville defeated Doug Jones in November.

Lawmakers were sworn in during a rare Sunday session because the Constitution prescribes January 3 as the date for opening a new Congress.

Sunday’s House session is scheduled to include a moment of silence for Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana, who died from COVID-19 days before he was set to be sworn in.

While both the House and Senate were observing coronavirus precautions, including masks and social distancing, one new member from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, was spotted on the floor without a mask, prompting admonishment by House staff.

During orientation for new members, she had dismissed masks — which are required on the House floor — as “oppressive.”

Among the new members sworn in Sunday was one very familiar face — Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, who served 11 terms in the House before being defeated in 2018, then claiming a seat from a different district in November.

Sessions and Jackson are part of a group of seven new members from Texas, marking a turnover in nearly a fifth of the Lone Star State’s delegation amid a wave of retirements. All are Republicans.

Florida has five new members; Georgia, four; North Carolina, three; and Alabama, two. Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia each have one new member. Delegations from Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia were unchanged.

Eleven of the 25 new Southern members are women (seven Republicans and four Democrats), part of the largest group of women (121) ever sworn into a single Congress. The new Congress will also feature a record number of Republican women at 29, up from 13 in the last Congress.

The service of one Southern House member in the 117th Congress will be brief — Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who will leave to become a senior aide to President-elect Joe Biden once he is sworn in on January 20.

Special elections will be held in Louisiana for Richmond and Letlow’s seats in March; neither are expected to change hands between parties.

The Constitution requires members of the House to be at least 25 years of age, a threshold Cawthorn met in August after winning the Republican primary in his Western North Carolina district. He will be the youngest House member since Jed Johnson Jr., a Democrat who represented Oklahoma for a single term between 1965 and 1967.

Sessions represented a Dallas-area seat during his first stint in the House, which he lost in 2018 to Collin Allred. Rather than try to reclaim it in 2020, he ran in a vacant seat in a district that includes Waco, where he grew up.

Of the 25 new Southern members, 21 were Republicans and just four were Democrats. Overall, Republicans hold 99 Southern seats and Democrats 52, with Letlow’s seat vacant.

Four Southern states — Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia — have no Democrats in their House delegations, while five others — Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina — have just one.

In only one Southern state do Democrats hold a majority of seats, Virginia, which is sending seven Democrats and only four Republicans to Washington.

Here is a list of new Southern House members, by state:

Alabama
Jerry Carl, R, 1st District (Mobile, South Alabama)
Barry Moore, R, 2nd District (Montgomery, southwest Alabama)

Florida
Kat Kammack, R, 3rd District (Gainesville, North-Central Florida)
Scott Franklin, R, 15 District (Lakeland, eastern Tampa suburbs)
Byron Donalds, R, 19th District (Fort Myers, Southwest Florida)
Carlos Giménez, R, 26th District (south Miami-Dade, Florida Keys)
Maria Elvira Salazar, R, 27th District (Miami-Dade)

Georgia
Nikema Williams, D, 5th District (Atlanta)
Carolyn Bourdeaux, D, 7th District (northeast Atlanta suburbs)
Andrew Clyde, R, 9th District (Gainesville, Northeast Georgia)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, R, 14th District (Rome, Northwest Georgia)

North Carolina
Deborah Ross, D, 2nd District (Raleigh)
Kathy Manning, D, 6th District (Greensboro)
Madison Cawthorn, R, 11th District (Western North Carolina)

Oklahoma
Stephanie Bice, R, 5th District (metro Oklahoma City)

South Carolina
Nancy Mace, R, 1st District (Charleston, Low Country)

Tennessee
Diana Harshbarger, R, 1st District (Tri-Cities, East Tennessee)

Texas
Pat Fallon, R, 4th District (Northeast Texas)
August Pfluger, R, 11th District (Midland, San Angelo, west-central Texas)
Ronny Jackson, R, 13th District (Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Panhandle)
Pete Sessions, R, 17th District (Waco, central-east Texas)
Troy Nehls, R, 22nd District (western Houston suburbs)
Tony Gonzales, R, 23rd District (West Texas)
Beth Van Duyne, R, 24th District (metro Dallas-Forth Worth)

Virginia
Bob Good, R, 5th District (Charlottesville, central Virginia)

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