Thursday, November 4, 2010

Democratic power dwindles in central TX

Updated: Wednesday, 03 Nov 2010, 3:03 AM CDT
Published : Wednesday, 03 Nov 2010, 2:59 AM CDT

AUSTIN (KXAN) - One after the other, Democrats took the stage at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin Tuesday night to rally the crowd to push through with hopes held high. The early voting numbers did not look good, and for a time most of the Democratic incumbents from Travis County were trailing their opponents.

By midnight, only one Democratic leader remained inside the historic hotel’s ballroom. Rep. Donna Howard , D-Austin, had narrowly won her third term in the western Travis County House District 48 seat. She stayed to thank supporters in person then took out her cell phone, sitting in the corner to call more supporters.

Howard won by just 15 votes, with rumors of a possible recount on the horizon. Her GOP challenger, Dan Neil – a former University of Texas Longhorn and Denver Bronco – was considering that move, according to his campaign manager.

“I feel like we weren’t out-worked,” Neil said. “We were going to go out there and try to get the message out to the voters. And we were successful at doing that by going door-to-door. I think that was the strength of our campaign was going to each individual voters door, and talking to them on a one-on-one basis.”

That approach was not enough for Rep. Valinda Bolton , D-Austin, as she sought her third term representing the southwestern Travis County House District 47. Upon her loss, she wished Republican businessman Paul Workman “all the best in his new role.”

Of her defeated Democratic neighbor, Howard acknowledged the tough work ahead with this election’s huge Republican gains.

“I'm very disappointed that a lot of my colleagues that I have a lot of respect for aren't going to be back,” Howard said. “It's going to be a real challenge here to build coalitions that can work together to come up with some common ground solutions, but I'm looking forward to going back and being a part of that."

"Whatever the signal the voters are sending tonight, it is not that we want one-party rule,” said Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who won his tightly contested race in House District 50. “It is not that we want one party running over the other party. It is that they want bipartisanship.

Little-known Republicans made up the majority of those winners against longtime incumbents, upsets in traditionally Democratic districts like those in Travis County.

With incomplete returns at midnight, it looked like Republicans would gain as many as 22 seats to its House majority, now 77-73. It was thought the gain would only be 6 to 10 seats before. This could mean major changes in several important political areas, especially the way Texas redistricts next spring.

Now, political strategists across the state are closely watching the race for House Speaker. Favored by many Democrats, current Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, might find a challenge with a new dose of conservative power. He could find the greatest opponent in conservative Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. It took a bolster of Democrats’ votes in 2008 for Straus to bump Tom Craddick, R-Midland, from the Speaker’s seat.

Next session’s speaker will have to deal with redistricting maps, quite possibly leaning favorably toward the GOP. The influx of freshman Republicans could, however, help close the state’s budget deficit of an estimated $25 billion, as they are expected to resist raising taxes.

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