Getting elected to the Texas legislature is a bit like joining the mafia: Once you’re in, you’re in.
A full 67 percent of Texas incumbents didn’t face a major-party challenger during the 2014 general election. Only three states (Georgia, South Carolina and Rhode Island) printed emptier ballots. Don’t expect wholesale turnover this year, either; 12 of the 16 state senators running for reelection this November just need to keep breathing to ensure their Austin return.
What gives? For one thing, state legislative districts are even smaller and more partisan than the country’s infamously gerrymandered congressional districts. For another, voters simply don’t keep close tabs on their local lawmakers. That means the most common outcome, should a challenger muster the courage to enter the fray, is a hopelessly one-sided beat-down. Only true believers (or masochists) print up those yard signs.
If we can’t shake things up at the capital, maybe it’s best to meet a few of Houston’s longest-serving and least-threatened state lawmakers. Unless they quit or seek promotion, it’s not like they’re going anywhere.
Dwayne Bohac, Republican
Service: Elected in 2002
Constituents: House District 138, representing Bear Creek, Spring Branch, Cy-Fair and Katy communities of West and Northwest Houston
High point: Cheap pencils for the kiddos! School supplies are tax-free in August thanks to his expansion of the sales tax holiday.
Low point: Co-authored the state’s embattled Voter ID law, one of the nation’s most restrictive.
Quotable: “We have to do something about this. It chills speech, and it chills Christmas freedom!” On the motivation behind the Merry Christmas Bill, a statute that protects teachers and students who exchange “traditional” holiday greetings from potential lawsuits, which Bohac wrote and successfully stumped for in 2013.
Top PAC donor: Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($114,299)
Trivia: In what he called “a fitting tribute to honor the man, the myth, the legend,” Bohac successfully pushed to rename a section of U.S. 290 the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway. (His son is named Reagan, too.)
Senfronia Thompson, Democrat
Service: Elected in 1972
Constituents: House District 141, representing Northeast Houston and portions of Humble
High point: A pugnacious stateswoman, she fought for three years to pass the 2001 James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which strengthened the penalties for such crimes and honored the memory of the East Texas black man who was dragged to his death from a truck.
Low point: Thompson isn’t above playing politics if a campaign contributor comes calling, like the time she tried to drain legislation protecting small breweries from having to sell their product through distributors.
Quotable: “It would have been wiser if Mr. Tesla had sat down with the car dealers first.” On a blocked bill that would have allowed Tesla to sell its cars directly to Texas consumers rather than through a dealership.
Top PAC donor: United Services Automobile Association Employees ($42,791)
Trivia: “Ms. T,” as she’s known affectionately around Austin, has served in the legislature longer than any other woman or African American in state history.
Jessica Farrar, Democrat
Service: Elected in 1994
Constituents: House District 148, representing Spring Branch East, the Greater Heights, Near Northside and Northline
High point: Helped organize the Killer Ds, a group of more than 50 Democrats that split for Oklahoma mid-session in 2003, denying the GOP a quorum and temporarily derailing a controversial redistricting plan.
Low point: After voting against Republican Tom Craddick for a second term as House speaker, in 2005, the urban progressive was spitefully assigned, by Craddick, to the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. (“That ought to be a relief to all the chicken, pig and goat raisers in the Heights,” one political consultant wrote at the time.)
Quotable: “Women are leaders of their families, whether some men in this room do not recognize that.” On misogyny at the statehouse, following a 2015 debate over an amendment about abortion rights.
Top PAC donor: Texas Trial Lawyers Association ($41,550)
Trivia: Farrar, who was first elected to her seat as a 27-year-old, now owns three dogs: Cricket, Gator and Possum.