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Texas Primary Highlights

March 1, 2016

Texas held its March primary contests and the will bring some interesting changes for public education. Confirmed and likely new leadership at Governor, Lieutenant Governor and key committee chairs, means new ideas and priorities during the 2015 Texas Legislature.

Texas Governor Race: In the race for Texas Governor, Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis overwhelmingly won their primaries and will square off in November. Both candidates have campaigned on improving Texas’ education system but a lot remains to be seen as to the details. Davis formally laid out her education plan, including a focus on issues such as expansion of state-funded pre-K education, boosting the number of school counselors and teachers through incentives, and improving college accessibility with dual credit programs. Abbott hasn’t formally laid out his education plan but has referenced enhancing the role of charter schools in creating public school competition and promoting classroom technology. 

Senate Education Chair Dan Patrick Outperforms Expectations in Lt. Governor Race: Senate Education Chair Dan Patrick surprised his opponent in the race for Lt. Governor with a convincing win over incumbent Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and two other challengers, sending the race to a two man run-off. Dewhurst earned less than 30 percent of the vote, a very bad sign for an incumbent heading into a runoff election. A Senator Patrick victory could dramatically change the politics of the Texas Senate, as he has already said that he will not appoint any Democratic committee chairs and has proposed changing certain Senate rules. Regardless of the winner in this race, Senator Patrick’s current seat as Chair of the Senate Education Committee will be up for grabs. 

House Loses Two Experienced Education Hands: Two of the legislature’s most influential education players lost to Tea Party challengers in Republican primaries. Representatives Diane Patrick and Bennett Ratliff both lost in tight elections. Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, made a name for himself during his first term as an education advocate. Patrick was Vice-Chair of Higher Education and has shown a great capacity for leadership on education issues. The loss of these strong advocates will be felt in the House. 

Senate Republican Kel Seliger survived a Tea Party challenger while his Republican colleagues Senator Bob Deuell went to a runoff and Senator John Carona was defeated. According to the Amarillo-Globe, Seliger intends to lobby for the chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee, an appointment he unsuccessfully sought two years ago. 

Speaker Joe Straus Looks Safe, Musical Chairs: Despite the defeat of a handful of his allies, Speaker Straus appears to retain the votes to keep his gavel which means that April 2 TEGAC Spring Meeting lunch speaker and Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock is set to return to House Public Education. The House Appropriations chair is open and Representatives John Otto and John Zerwas keep surfacing as likely successors. If Texas Comptroller candidate Senator Glenn Hegar avoids or wins a run-off, Representatives Zerwas and Lois Kolkhorst (Chair of Public Health) are frequently mentioned as possible candidates, assuming his likely election in November.

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