U.S. congressman Pat Fallon, a Republican who represents a district northwest of Dallas, has only one regret: that he can’t physically be in two places at once. He feels a pull to return from the nation’s capital to the Texas Senate, where he can spend more time with his family and, perhaps, actually pass legislation. But in searching for his “best and highest use,” he’s also drawn to the ongoing political theater that is Capitol Hill.
After only three years in Washington, D.C., Fallon announced last week that he was ready to return to his old seat in the Texas Senate, citing a desire to help move forward Texas’s “great success story.” On November 13, Fallon filed the necessary paperwork to run for Texas Senate District 30, the seat he previously held that is newly open after its incumbent, Drew Springer, a Republican, announced that he would not be seeking reelection. But Fallon changed his mind about 24 hours later and will now be seeking reelection to his congressional seat—by his telling, after his oldest son pleaded, “I want you to save the Republic.”
Were it not for his abrupt change of heart, Fallon would have been in line with a developing trend—one that raises questions about the makeup of Texas’s delegation in Congress, and how different it may look post-election.
In recent weeks, two other prominent Republican U.S. representatives from Texas announced that they were calling it quits—and, unlike Fallon, appear to be sticking to their guns. Representative Kay Granger, of Fort Worth, who’s served 26 years in Washington and chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and Representative Michael Burgess, of Lewisville, who’s held his seat since 2002, both decided not to seek reelection in 2024. (Nearby, Representative Colin Allred, a Democrat, is trading his plum Dallas-area seat for a long-shot bid to unseat Senator Ted Cruz; Texas law forbids him from running for both offices simultaneously.)
Why multiple retirements in one region of Texas? Typically, when a group of incumbents of one party announce retirement before an election it’s a sign that they might be facing tough elections. That doesn’t seem to be the case here: in 2021 the Texas Legislature drew congressional maps to ensure all incumbents would have safe seats—save for one district at the southern border that was redrawn in a way that left it competitive. Indeed, both Granger and Burgess represent solidly red seats, and their successors aren’t likely to change Congress’s overall makeup. (In 2022, Granger won reelection by about 29 percentage points; Burgess won by about 39 percentage points.)
The reason behind their announcements is probably twofold, said Jim Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University. One, they’re both fairly old—even by congressional standards—at 80 and 72 years old, respectively, and probably want to help usher in a new era of leadership. But, notably, they’re also probably fed up with the drama. (Neither Granger nor Burgess responded to a request for an interview.)
“The contentiousness and backbiting and physical fighting and all of that probably made the decision easier for both of them, who are kind of old-school politicians,” Riddlesperger said. “Though they’re very conservative, they’re used to working with people with whom they disagree rather than vilifying them. I would guess that they don’t like this new era of polarization very much.”
That might have been especially true for Granger, after a handful of far-right Freedom Caucus members joined the Appropriations Committee this year, according to Democratic representative Henry Cuellar, of Laredo, who also sits on the committee. House Appropriations, he told me, has become less focused on setting funding levels and increasingly centered on cultural issues such as efforts to limit diversity, drag shows, Pride flag displays, and discussions of critical race theory. “I could see that [Granger] did not like what was going on,” Cuellar said. “I don’t want to speak for her, but my interpretation is that she did not like the direction we saw this year.”
There’s evidence that Granger had also been sidelined among her party members more recently. During House Republicans’ repeated attempts to elect a Speaker, she voted against Representative Jim Jordan, of Ohio, and garnered backlash from Jordan supporters, some of whom called for her ouster. (Ultimately, Texas Republicans united to elect the ultimate victor: Mike Johnson, of Louisiana.)
With Granger’s and Burgess’s exits, though, there’s now a noticeable divide in the GOP delegation between relatively experienced House members and new ones who have only represented the party since it moved further right under former president Donald Trump. The more seasoned members (including Cuellar) remember a chamber where there was more wheeling and dealing to be done, which is to say that it was more productive, and probably more fun. Now, Republicans only narrowly hold the U.S. House, while Democrats and allied independents have a slim majority in the Senate—and in the Trump era, infighting over what it takes to maintain party control, and what the party should look like, abounds. In congressional districts across the country, fights for control of the two chambers will play out against the backdrop of a presidential contest that likely will pit an unpopular Democratic incumbent against a similarly despised Republican former president.
The departure of three members, two of them longtime key players, will certainly alter the Republican presence in Congress. Especially given Republicans’ razor-thin majority, each individual member makes a difference in maintaining that narrow advantage. And events in the House are to some degree determined by unique personalities and peculiarities.
Though Allred is the greenest member to leave his seat this cycle, Texas’s delegation is still losing a representative who, as a Black man, symbolized the growing diversity of his North Texas constituents. The departure of Granger and Burgess, meanwhile, means the loss of hard-won expertise on issues related to defense spending and energy, areas that still garner some bipartisan interest. Their respective backgrounds on appropriations and health care issues made them particularly vital, Cuellar said.
Plus, their considerable experience—and the years that went into building it—meant senior North Texas representatives held important roles in the body, noted Rodney Anderson, a former Texas state representative and the former chairman of the Dallas County GOP. Their replacements will lack such influence. “In Washington, longevity means seniority and better committee assignments. Granger has been one of the best things that could’ve happened to Texas with her positions in Congress, and Burgess at one point chaired the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health,” said Anderson. “It does leave a void for North Texas in seniority and that’s never a good thing.”
In today’s Congress, though, it’s unclear how much that really matters. Months of intra-party strife and the discord that lingers as the House GOP starts again under new leadership means the key to success is whether a Republican politician is sufficiently committed to the party line when it comes to the culture war issues du jour. Being able to pass legislation or bridge political divides matters much less, and the advantage that a great lawmaker provides his or her allies has been greatly diminished. At least on the Republican side, Burgess’s and Granger’s exits will probably open the door for more extreme representatives to take their place.
As depressing a workplace as the House has become for some members of the delegation, there are still some politicians climbing over each other to get in. Many ambitious—and some former—Republican state legislators are already mulling over or have announced runs. For Burgess’s seat, Luisa del Rosal, who served as the 2020 Republican nominee for a Dallas-area state House seat and as West Texas representative Tony Gonzales’s former chief of staff, recently announced that she’ll seek election to the newly vacated seat. As has Brandon Gill, the founder of the DC Enquirer and son-in-law of Dinesh D’Souza. (Gill already has the endorsement of Freedom Caucus member Lauren Boebert, of Colorado.) Former Republican state representative Ron Simmons of Carrollton, who authored the controversial “bathroom bill” that aimed to require Texans to use only the restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate, said that he’d make a decision on whether to run for the seat “shortly.” Meanwhile, Granger’s seat was already the target of Republican John O’Shea—who had been endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton—before Granger announced her retirement. State representative Craig Goldman, of Fort Worth, has now said that he will run to succeed Granger as well. A few other prospective candidates have marked themselves as “maybes,” including former mayor pro tem of Colleyville Chris Putnam, who ran against Granger in 2020. (His campaign website boasts a “fight against the radical, progressive socialists to defend capitalism, protect small businesses and support our military & law enforcement communities.”)
Mark Davis, a Dallas-based conservative radio host, predicted that voters in these races might be open to Republican candidates who embrace both conservatism and pragmatism. But in what is still the Trump era, he added, it might be more likely that “voters embrace boldness and look askance at compromise.” The old guard is moving on. When Burgess and Granger’s successors take over next year, they will inherit seats in an increasingly dysfunctional body. Maybe they’ll get tired of it, come back home, and the cycle will continue.
Photo Credits: Burgess: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty; Granger: J. Scott Applewhite/AP; Fallon: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP