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In 2018, Texas Voters Will Fill More Competitive Seats Than Usual

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

From Texas Standard.

There’s a whole lot of potential change right now on the Texas political landscape. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has a challenger for his office from fellow Republican Trey Blocker, a longtime lobbyist who will take on the colorful incumbent. It’s the most serious intra-party challenge to a sitting statewide official – at least so far.

After nude photos of him emerged online, Texas Congressman Joe Barton now faces a challenge from fellow Republican Jake Ellzey, a retired naval combat pilot and member of the Texas Veterans Commission.

Plus, state Rep. Helen Giddings of the Dallas area is calling it quits after 13 terms. The Democrat is vice chairwoman of the powerful House State Affairs committee and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Filing season isn’t over yet, so there could be more to come.

Joshua Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, says there are a lot of reasons for the retirements we’ve seen, though the number is still unusually high.

The Texas Politics Project studies what they call “congressional churn.” That’s the term for, Blank says, “when we go from one Congress to the next, how much of the delegation changes.”

He says it looks like there’s currently a high level of churn. “A lot of that could be Republicans looking at the 2018 midterms and saying, ‘You know, this is going to be difficult,’” Blank says.

He says the retirements aren’t surprising. “We know historically the president’s party in the midterm election after they’re elected tend to lose a lot of seats,” he says.

Blank says Democrats see the retirements as Republicans running away from a challenging environment, but he says “if you’re a Republican, you know there’s actually plenty of legitimate reasons why we’ve seen so much turnover from Republican members in the congressional delegation.” For instance, some members are finishing up their terms as powerful committee chairs and would prefer to retire than go to less interesting committees.

Still, Blank says some of the change could be happening because of current political conditions.

“I can’t imagine that any member of Congress feels like it’s fun to be in Congress right now,” he says. “And I think that’s probably also true to some degree down to the state level. The rigid polarization, the inability to get things done, I think at some point it makes it easier to leave.”

Written by Jen Rice.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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