Will 17 Freshman Democrats Change The Legislature?

They aren’t in the majority, but Democrats’ strong showing in last year’s elections means that they, and Republicans, too, may find it in their interest to trod a middle path.

By Ryan PoppeJanuary 14, 2019 2:30 pm

The 86th session of the Texas Legislature just began last week. And though the lege remains a Republican dominated shop, Democratic gains in the House could make for a much different show this legislative session.

Jonathan Tilove is chief political writer for the Austin American-Statesman. He has been writing about the new dynamic at the lege.

This year’s freshman class includes 27 members. 17 of whom are Democrats. Tilove says the change in tone was obvious on the day after the session began, when Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen held a press conference to announce that they are on the same page when it comes to priorities for the session.

“Every indication is that this session will be more focused on bigger issues, and that they’re not going to get sidetracked,” Tilove says. “At least that’s what they’re saying to start out. And I think that has a lot to do with the different composition, the different makeup [of the legislature.]”

While Republicans see the need to maintain a united front in order to achieve their goals, rather than splintering into factions as they have done in recent sessions, newly-elected Democrats may struggle to create their own identity – are they better off tacking to the middle, or taking a more progressive stance on issues?

Tilove says he thinks Democrats “have everything to gain by sticking to the middle, and that Republicans may actually, also.”

He says strong showings for Democrats in the suburbs will tamp down Republican desires to advocate hard-right positions, as some did last session.

“The legislature has, over a long period of time, earned its reputation as a place where things happen across party lines,” Tilove says. “That’s unlike in Washington. I think that kind of broke down a bit during the last session or two.”

Tilove says this session marks the closest split among Democrats and Republicans in ten years.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.