Bob Lanier’s victory in the Houston mayoral runoff guaranteed that all three of the state’s biggest cities will be led by white male political insiders for the first time since 1971. A year ago all three cities had women mayors. But the elections of Lanier, Steve Bartlett in Dallas, and Nelson Wolff in San Antonio cannot be read as a return to old politics. The one thing that the three mayors have in common is an estrangement from the downtown business interests that once dominated urban politics. The split between the central city and outlying areas was most obvious in Houston: Lanier’s runnoff opponent, black state legislator Sylvester Turner, had the support of the downtown crows because Lanier has long been the chief critic of downtown-backed rail transit for Houston. In Dallas, Bartlett is viewed as skeptical of DART, the Dallas transit authority, which also has grandiose plans for rail. In San Antonio, Wolff had the support of North Side business interests against incumbent mayor Lila Cockrell, who was supported by the business establishment. Another departure from the past: Neither Lanier nor Bartlett is the kind of mayor who usually gets elected in their cities. Dallas mayors typically have been business and civic leaders; Houston mayors have been politicians. But Bartlett is a former city councilman and Republican congressman, and Lanier is a major developer. Indeed, Bartlett and Lanier have more in common with their female predecessors than with the white males who used to run their cities. Retiring Dallas mayor Annette Strauss, a Democrat, enjoyed substantial Republican support because of her civic and charitable activities; Bartlett used alliances with environmental and disabled groups to cross party lines. The issue that won the run-off for Lanier was competence-the same issue that launched Kathy Whitmore’s long run as mayor.
The stakes are huge in the unspeakably snarled fight over Senate redistricting. The reason is that the Senate has so few members (31) that a small shift in numbers means an enormous shift in power. A case in point: By tradition, a bill cannot reach the Senate floor for debate without the consent of two thirds of the 31 senators. The magic number to clock a bill is 11. Republicans currently have 9 senators; under the plan passed by the Legislature in early January, they would probably not increase in number. But under a plan approved in December by a federal three-judge panel (all Republican appointees), Republicans would be favored to win at least twelve seats. That would be enough to prevent any bill from coming to the floor-including a tax bill or a budget. There is not way that the remaining Democratic senators can let a Republican minority have that kind of power. If the federal court’s redistricting map prevails, the Democrats will be forced to make drastic changes in Senate procedure. In the future, to get a bill passed in the Senate may require only a simple majority of sixteen votes.
The house, menaced by a prolonged speaker’s race and a huge turnover, faces a future as uncertain as that of the Senate. No one has a clue who among the seven or so leading candidates and as many dark horses will emerge as the successor to retiring-at last!-Speaker Gib Lewis. The first question is whether the House will divide along party lines or continue to be led by bipartisan coalition. SOme activists in both parties-outside the Legislature, that is-would like to see a partisan split. Some GOP loyalists want Republican legislative candidates to pledge not to support a Democrat. But a partisan division isn’t likely; the Democratic majority, 93-57, isn’t as big as it looks. On most issues, a Republican-conservative Democrat coalition would have a majority. The second question is whether Republicans will act as a bloc. If so, they will be kingmakers at the very least, and at the very most, they might be able to cut a deal with one of the minority causes to elect a Republican speaker. The prospect-not a cheery one for Ann Richards-is that when the new Legislature meets in 1993, Republican influence in both the House and the Senate will be greater than ever.