Farabee leaving; blow for Demos
Farabee said his decision to end this phase of his political career at 12 years is good for him to spend more time with his wife Terri and their three children.
It’s almost certainly not good news for the Democrats, who are hoping to improve in the 2010 elections on their 74-76 deficit to the Republicans in the 150-member House.
The presumption is that if the Democrats do gain a majority, they will elect a speaker in 2011 in place of Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio. And a Democratic speaker would have big implications in many areas, including legislative and congressional redistricting.
Farabee has run against the Republican grain for years. His District 69 – now comprised of Wichita and Archer Counties -- is one of the most Republican in Texas represented by a Democrat.
His survival on turf unfriendly to most Democrats is due to his family-man status, his devotion to constituent service, and his non-partisan demeanor. In fact, the local newspaper half-joked that when Farabee joined enough other Democratic representatives fleeing to Oklahoma to block a House quorum on congressional re-redistricting in 2003, it was the first time some of his constituents were aware he was a Democrat.
Not incidentally, the service of his father, Ray Farabee, as a moderate Democratic state senator from the area for more than 13 years from 1975 into 1988, when he left the Senate to be general counsel for the University of Texas System, certainly helped lay the groundwork for positive name identification.
And the many civic endeavors of his late mother Helen, for whom a local mental health facility is named, added to making the Farabee name a familiar one.
In several elections, including 2008, the younger Farabee, 45, had no GOP opponent at all. In 2006, he got 58.2 percent of the vote against a Republican and a Libertarian.
But with Farabee’s decision to retire, Republicans are salivating for the seat. Already announced to run as a Republican is third-term Wichita Falls Mayor Lanham Lyne, 54.
The presumption certainly is that without a tenured Democrat who’s proven successful in territory normally hostile to his kind, the seat will slip. Farabee himself estimated that a Democrat would probably have to raise and spend $250,000 to have a chance of representing the district.
So what now for the Democrats?
“If we’re going to win the House, we’re going to have to work even harder,” said Glenn Smith of the Texas Progress Council, which seeks to further progressive causes that are often backed by Democrats. “It’s going to be hard to hold that district, without the Farabee family represented.
“However,” Smith added hopefully, “It’s real hard to know what the political landscape will be in November 2010. It depends on how the health care bill is received, and how the economy’s going.
“It may be that the national mood will be much more favorable to Democrats after health care passes, which I think it’s going to do,” Smith said.
Other unknowns include how the rest of the party tickets higher up the ballot turn out, Smith said.
“It’s about as tough a seat for a Democrat to win as there is in the legislature,” said Farabee’s Democratic House colleague, Rep. Mark Strama of Austin. “But, it can be done.”
Strama said the same misgivings had been expressed when former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, had retired from his High Plains House district after more than three decades, two years after his defeat as speaker by Republican Tom Craddick of Midland.
But lo and behold, Democrat and former Crosby County Judge Joe Heflin of Crosbyton hung onto the seat -- despite it being heavily Republican higher up the ballot. Not just in the 2006 election, but again in 2008.
“I would’ve never thought we could hold Laney’s seat, but we did,” Strama said. “Obviously, Heflin was a really good candidate.”
And what about some Democrat to run for the seat now held by Farabee?
“I’m sure there’ll be a Democrat on the ballot,” said Smith of the Progress Council. “I’d be happier if he was running for re-election,” he admitted.
With 12 years service, Farabee will be eligible at age 50 to begin collecting monthly legislative retirement between $2,200 and $3,300, depending on which options he chooses.