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Defeated Candidates Ask Voters for Another Shot

Photo by Texas Tribune: Todd Wiseman / Bob Daemmrich / Spencer Selvidge

Maybe the voters didn’t mean it. Could be they have reconsidered. It may have been a mistake, or a bunch of them got busy and never made it to the polls. Perhaps they were just as surprised the morning after the elections as the losers were, and maybe now the voters want their former incumbents back.

Or maybe it’s just that some candidates need to lose more than once to get the message.

It’s already clear, even with time remaining in the candidate-filing period, that the 2012 ballot will be stippled with retreads, officeholders who were cast out by voters last election but want to try again.

It can work. Reps. Jim Murphy and Borris Miles of Houston, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, are back in the Legislature, after all. So is Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. All three lost elections, tried again and won back the seats they’d lost.

Candidates leave and return even if the voters haven’t cast them out. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi served eight years as a Democrat in the Texas House, quit to spend time with his family and his day job, and then returned as a Republican 12 years later. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, served from 1981 to 1987 in the state House, lost a run for state Senate and went home, then rested up and returned to the House four years later.

This time, Tommy Merritt is back for round two. He lost to a fellow Longview Republican,David Simpson, in 2010. That’s a case in which voters take a look at a candidate, decide to go with someone else, and then get a choice two years later between the new incumbent and the old one. Miles was like that, beating former Rep. Al Edwards, Democrat of Houston, in 2006, losing to him in 2008, then beating him again in 2010.

Not every resurrection effort is a rematch. In some, the geography has changed. In others, candidates are hoping voters are in a different mood. The geography shifts result from redistricting. Carol Kent, a Dallas Democrat, served one term in the House before her defeat at the hands of Stefani Carter, a Republican, in November 2010. Now she’s running again, and so is Carter. But the lines have moved and they won’t face off.

Carter is running for re-election, and Kent is running — without moving — for an open seat on the new House maps drawn by a panel of federal judges.

Ciro Rodriguez has been in Congress, out of Congress, in and out again. A Democrat from San Antonio, he left the statehouse to run successfully for the United States House in 1997. He lost that seat in the 2004 election — after the mid-decade redistricting engineered by Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, and with a Texan running for re-election to the White House.

Two years later — the year Rick Perry was re-elected with only 39 percent of the vote — Rodriguez won in a different Congressional district and held onto it again in 2008. But in the 2010 Republican wave, he lost to Francisco "Quico" Canseco, R-San Antonio.

With a new set of maps in place (for now, anyway — the state is trying to block the use of maps drawn last month by a panel of federal judges), Rodriguez has filed to run for Congress in yet another district. Maybe he’ll win and get his own Trivial Pursuit card: “Name the Texan who served as the representative of three different congressional districts.”

Most of the would-be comeback kids, so far, are Democrats who were drubbed last time around. They include Abel Herrero of Robstown, Solomon Ortiz Jr. of Corpus Christi and two — Chris Turner of Burleson and Paula Pierson of Arlington — who will face each other in the primary instead of the people who knocked them out of office.

That leaves Delwin Jones, 87, of Lubbock, who is already a comeback Hall of Famer. He served as a Democrat from 1964 to 1973 before losing his seat in a district he drew himself as chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. He came back in 1989 — as a Republican — but lost in 2010 to Charles Perry, a political newcomer who ran an energetic grass-roots campaign.

While Jones hasn’t filed yet, he’s pondering: Did the voters really mean it?

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.