Texas voters are heading to the polls this week, but the state's biggest battle is shaping up for a year from now. The impending departure of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) over a controversy surrounding his secret meeting with a political activist has left state Republicans without a de facto leader heading into an unusually competitive election year. "This is something pretty new for Republicans in Texas," says Harvey Kronberg, longtime Texas political observer and publisher of the Quorum Report. "For the last 20 years, if you came from a Republican district you were going to win in November, if you were a Republican."
After Democrats gained Texas House seats in the 2018 elections, they will now run against a lame-duck house speaker who was forced to step aside by his own party. "There are 16 potential turnover seats (in the Texas House)," says Kronberg. "Democrats have to hold on to everything they've already won, and win nine more seats...all of which, in this environment, is entirely possible."
While the house speaker typically oversees the re-election efforts of individual members and the party as a whole, Bonnen won't be able to do that now that he's on his way out. Thus, Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to step in. "The likelihood of the Republicans being able to mount a coordinated campaign is greatly diminished. That's one of the reasons you see Greg Abbott now, every two or three days, endorsing a Republican house member," says Kronberg. "With the real possibility of a Democratic-controlled House, (Abbott) is at least trying to fill some of the void left by the absence of the speaker."