Analysis: The Texas Senate will be a quiet zone in a noisy, important election year

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Only one Republican in the Texas Senate — Pete Flores of Pleasanton — is in immediate political peril next year. Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune

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A quick takeaway from the deadline of candidate filings: The Texas Senate is going to be the calmest spot in the state’s electoral ocean in 2020.

Republicans hold the majority in that chamber, and not one of them will face an opponent in next year’s GOP primary.

It’s hard to say whether that’s an exhibition of discipline on the party’s part or a lack of ambition among potential challengers.

It might be a sign of relative tranquility, when you get down to it. Republicans aren’t in serious danger of losing their Senate majority. And the incumbents in that party are closely bound to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a former state senator who wields as much control over his senators as anyone since Bob Bullock.

Patrick doesn’t appear likely to encourage Republican opponents for any GOP incumbents on the 2020 ballot.

There will be at least one new senator, with José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, not seeking another term. Only one Democrat, state Rep. César Blanco, signed up to run for that seat. He would have to be counted as the favorite to replace him in that reliably Democratic district.

Only one Republican — Pete Flores of Pleasanton — is in immediate political peril next year. He won a special election a little more than a year ago in Senate District 19, a 17-county district that includes a large chunk of Bexar County and San Antonio. That chunk accounts for more than half of the district’s population.

Until Flores snuck up and took it away, Democrats had a relatively firm hold on the territory; they’ll fight to take it back, and Flores will try to prove that his victory last year wasn’t a fluke. It’s a swing district, and the outcome could depend on what happens above the state Senate race on the ballot — up there where presidents and U.S. senators and members of Congress joust.

But the election is not going to change the Senate in a significant way. In its current configuration, the Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. It’ll take a change in more than one seat to make any difference, and flipping four spots to the minority party would require serious magic.

Anyway, the focus of national, state and local pols in the state is on the Texas House, where a nine-seat change would turn a Republican House into a Democratic one. That would change the bargaining on everything from the state budget to education.

And, of greater interest to the political class, the redrawing of the state’s political districts.

That’s why the national Democrats are interested in the little ol’ Texas House of Representatives: Winning a majority would improve their chance of a less punishing political map for the U.S. House delegation.

They are playing the same game Republican Tom DeLay pulled off in 2003, turning enough seats in a Texas congressional map to change the odds in his party’s favor in Washington.

What the Democrats hope to do would require two long shots.

First, they would have to win a majority in the Texas House. They won 12 seats in 2018, but retaining some of those will require strong defense. And if that works, they’ll still have to add nine more.

Second, the Democrats probably won’t get a map they like from a divided Legislature, but with control of the House, they could block any legislative map, throwing the final artwork to a panel of three federal judges — a so-far unnamed panel that might, possibly, be less inclined to draw a strongly Republican map than the Legislature.

That best-case scenario for Democrats isn’t great, in other words, but it’s better than the worst case: a congressional map devised by a Republican House and Senate and signed by a Republican governor.

Flipping the Senate is too hard and too unlikely, and everybody is leaving it alone. The show — and the real work, for both sides — is in the House.

Maybe state senators — from both parties — will get bored and help out.

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