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Combs Spurs a Political Stampede

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

What a difference a fact makes.

Texas politics jumped from the speculative to the competitive realm Wednesday with Comptroller Susan Combs's announcement that she wouldn't seek re-election and the nearly instant expressions of interest from a half-dozen people who'd like that job.

With those and other highly anticipated moves emptying at least three and as many as six statewide positions, the top of the ballot could be inundated with candidates in 2014.

Combs’s announcement prompted proclamations of interest from a covey of Republicans: state Sens. Tommy Williams,of The Woodlands, and Glenn Hegar, of Katy; state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran. of Kerrville; Debra Medina, a candidate in the 2010 governor’s race; and former state Rep. Raul Torres, of Corpus Christi.

Others were flushed by the announcement. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, both Republicans, reaffirmed their intentions to run for lieutenant governor. They are running against the incumbent, apparently, as David Dewhurst has said he would seek re-election. State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has said he is seriously considering joining that race.

Some of these folks won’t actually become candidates. Declaring now gets them some attention and a political sounding on whether they can attract any support for the jobs they seek. Greg Abbott, now the attorney general, was briefly a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002 before running for his current office, for instance: that’s where the support — and the odds — led him. In the same way, some of these candidates might stay right where they are or look for other opportunities.

Staples had to assert his interest in challenging Dewhurst after he was asked if he wouldn’t rather seek the presumably easier race for the open comptroller’s seat.

Republicans looking at Patterson’s seat scattered when George P. Bush set his sights on it. Staples’s interest in a promotion prompted interest in the agriculture post from two Republican state representatives — Brandon Creighton, of Conroe, and Tim Kleinschmidt, of Lexington — and former state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview.

The state’s political enthusiasts are waiting to hear what Gov. Rick Perry and Abbott are planning. The attorney general is putting all of the money and people in place to run for governor. He and the rest of us are waiting to hear whether the governor wants to run for re-election again in 2014.

When those two declare their intentions — and both men earlier pointed to June as the time we might expect announcements — they will trigger another round of musical chairs.

The potential contest for attorney general has already piqued conversations about who would run. If and when Abbott says it’s an open seat, look for the kind of land rush that Combs set off.

These are all Republicans. That party is in control at the moment, and no Democrat has won a statewide election since 1994. The Democrats who might be candidates are quiet, making their own calculations about whether 2014 is the year they can win.

Republicans have a different calculation. Some Senate terms run through 2016; Hegar and Williams, for instance, could run in 2014 without risking their current offices. Others, like Patrick, have to choose between re-election or promotion; if they lose, they go home.

But the pent-up ambition is strong in the Republican Party. Perry has been in office since 2000. Dewhurst, Abbott and Patterson were elected to their current positions in 2002. Combs and Staples won their posts in 2006. When the people at the top of the pyramid won’t move, the people behind them get anxious.

After the 2014 elections, it’s possible that one or two of the top three statewide elected officials — Perry, Dewhurst and Abbott —won’t be in office in 2015. Combs is gone by her own choice.

Patterson or Staples, or both, will be out of office, because both are giving up the spots they have now to run for lieutenant governor, a race one or both could lose.

It’s possible that of those six state offices on the statewide ballot, five could have new occupants in January 2015.

The lines are forming.

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.
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