Those in the Senate chamber yesterday witnessed the strange ritual of drawing lots to stagger Senate terms after redistricting.
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State senators shuffled up to the podium one by one on Wednesday morning to draw lots to determine whether they would serve a two- or four-year term before facing voters again. Each senator had to reach into a glass bowl and select an envelope containing a capsule holding an even or odd number. Those who snagged odd numbers received four-year terms, and those who drew even numbers will be up for re-election in 2014.
The Texas Senate staggers terms this way every ten years, after each redistricting cycle, and if it sounds like an odd ritual, it is. Arkansas is the only other state whose Senate parcels out terms this way. However, the terms balance out: the districts that start off with two-year terms finish the decade with two four-year terms, and the seats that start the cycle with four-year terms finish up with one two-year slot.
(As a bit of trivia: According to John Reed, a public information officer with the Arkansas state senate, prior to the enactment of term limits, senators would hope for four-year terms. But the state’s term limits mean that each senator can serve no more than two four-year terms. The additional two-year term does not count against that, so now everyone hopes to draw a two-year term.)
Texas doesn’t have term limits, and so if senators covet the four-year term, it’s usually just because they don’t want to stand for reelection after only two years. But for many of the current members—the longtime legislators, or the ones in safe districts—there was little to fear in Wednesday’s drawing. And neither party had unusually bad luck. Seven of the senate’s eleven Democrats received four-year terms, as did eight of the body’s 19 Republicans. (The person chosen in the January 26 special election to represent Senate District 6, considered a safe Democratic seat, will also serve a four-year term.)
Still, several senators probably cringed at the results. For those who have been thinking about running for higher office in 2014, a two-year term effectively forces their hands. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), for example, drew a two-year term, but she is widely thought to be considering a run for the governor’s mansion. Had she drawn a four-year term, she might have been more inclined to run for statewide office in 2014 because even if she lost, she would retain her seat in the Senate. (Davis won her second term in the Senate in November after fighting a pitched battle for the seat against Fort Worth Republican doctor Mark Shelton, who has already told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram it would be a “fair assumption” that he’s interested in squaring off with her again.) Still, Davis issued an upbeat statement. “My top priority is to continue working every day to be the voice of the people of Tarrant County who sent me here to fight for their families,” she said. “My commitment to restoring $5.4 billion in cuts to public education, to building our economy and fostering good paying jobs, and to ensuring that quality health care is available for Texas families is unwavering, regardless of whether I have a two or four year term.” A few Republicans also have decisions to make as a result of the drawing. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, thought to be mulling a run for lieutenant governor in 2014, may have been disappointed after he plucked an even number from the bowl, giving him a two-year term.
The other senators who had the most at stake were the freshmen, particularly those who are new to the Legislature. Donna Campbell, a Republican from New Braunfels, seemed pensive after she drew a two-year term. A physician who had never held elected office, she came to the Senate after pulling off a surprising upset in the 2012 primary runoff against the incumbent, Jeff Wentworth. But by the time the senate adjourned for the day, she was ready to fight some more, and told reporters she was happy that voters in her district would get another opportunity to exercise their right to vote. “I’m the only person who has ever unseated a sitting Republican Senator in a primary in Texas,” she added. But if she ends up drawing a credible primary opponent, that might not be true for long.