2017-05-18 / Opinion

‘Massacres’ in Austin, D.C.

Dave McNeely

The May 11 “Mother’s Day Massacre” in the Texas House of Representatives might have gotten more attention if it hadn’t been so upstaged by the reaction in Washington to the “Tuesday Night Massacre” on May 9.

That’s when President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. And then Trump’s evolving rationale included his angst about an investigation of possible collusion between Russian officials and Trump campaign operatives to influence the presidential election.

The “Mother’s Day Massacre” involved a dozen renegade Tea Party Republicans killing 121 bills and five resolutions on the House’s Local and Consent Calendar.

With the legislative session’s May 29 deadline looming, the measures needed to get initial passage by midnight Thursday or die. Five House members can knock bills off Local and Consent – which in that time crunch spelled their death.

The self-named Freedom Caucus said they were retaliating for House Speaker Joe Straus’s leadership team not scheduling a half-dozen of their priority bills.

But the Trump-cans-Comey aftermath stole much of the political spotlight and its remarkable melodrama could affect Texas politics.

That’s because Republican John Cornyn, Texas’ senior U.S. senator, was named among a handful of candidates to replace Comey.

This may never happen, and may be over before this reaches you. But here’s some process, and possible politics, if it does.

Some wonder why Cornyn would consider trading a high rank in the Senate hierarchy for an appointment from someone as mercurial and erratic as Donald Trump.

That’s particularly so when Comey’s replacement will be expected by most people who aren’t Donald Trump to pursue the FBI investigation into the Russia-Trump campaign connection.

But if Cornyn gets the job, it sets off a ripple effect in filling his Senate seat.

First, the governor appoints someone to serve as senator, to serve until a special election determines who wins the remainder of the unexpired term.

That’s where the ripple effect comes in. We’ve written about Texas Congressmen this year who’ve pondered contesting Texas’s other senator, Republican Ted Cruz, for re-election in 2018.

But they’d be giving up their House seat to make the Senate race. They can’t run for both jobs in the same election.

A special election, however, provides a free-ride opportunity. They don’t have to give up their House seat to run for the Senate.

The replacement election would come on Nov. 7 of 2017, the uniform election date for local offices and constitutional amendment proposals. Their House seats are up in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, a Democrat, has already announced for Cruz’s seat, rather than a fourth two-year term in the House.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from San Antonio also in his third term, thought about challenging Cruz. But he decided to stay in the House rather than risk being knocked out of Congress.

A Senate vacancy this year, however, would allow Castro to run for the Senate in 2017, and if he lost, he could still run for re-election to the House in 2018.

Another congressman, Republican Mike McCaul of Austin, has been mentioned as a possible candidate to take on Cruz in a primary in 2018. But McCaul, who like Castro enjoys being a legislator, also is reluctant to risk his seat on the chance of promotion to the Senate.

So a Senate special election race could also appeal to McCaul.

The last Texas special election to fill a Senate vacancy was in 1993, when Democrat Lloyd Bentsen left after 22 years to be President Bill Clinton’s secretary of the treasury.

Democratic Gov. Ann Richards chose Democrat Bob Krueger, a former congressman who had run for the Senate in 1978 and 1984. In 1990, he’d been elected to the Texas Railroad Commission.

The crowded special election attracted two dozen candidates, including two sitting congressmen. Krueger made it into a runoff, but lost that to Republican State Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison.

She won a full term in 1994, and was re-elected twice more. She retired Jan. 3, 2013.

Besides the speculation about special election candidates if Cornyn goes to the FBI, there’s also wondering about who Republican Gov. Greg Abbott might appoint as the interim senator.

Some think Abbott might consider naming Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – just to get him out of the state.

Patrick, a former sportscaster who rode a right-wing Houston radio talk show into a state senate seat, is a practiced publicity hound, and seems to consistently work to beat Abbott for media coverage.

While Patrick has said he wouldn’t run for governor against Abbott, some wonder how firm that pledge is.

So, Cornyn may not get the FBI job. But it’ll be interesting politics if he does.

Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail.com or (512) 458-2963.

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