Texas Republican Lawmakers Exit Austin With a Smile and High Hopes for 2020

AUSTIN -- All session, House Republicans have trained their sights on 2020.After losing a dozen seats to the Democrats in the November midterms, they wanted an insurance policy next year against another “roof cave-in” at the top of their ticket.The margins at the top of the Texas GOP ticket have been shrinking: Mitt Romney (2012), 16 percentage points; John Cornyn and Greg Abbott (2014), 27 points and 20 points, respectively; Donald Trump (2016), 9 points. Last fall, Ted Cruz beat Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 2.6 percentage points.As the Legislature ended its work Monday, Rep. James Frank stood near the back wall of the House chamber. In 2020, the Democrats need a net gain of only nine to seize control of the House. But next year’s ticket topper Trump, especially “if the economy keeps going,” should be stronger than last year’s, he said.“You couldn’t have had a worse combination of Beto at his pinnacle and Cruz,” said Frank, R-Wichita Falls. “Cruz is not the most likable guy.”Frank is president of the Texas Conservative Caucus, whose members make up between one-third to half of each chamber.“We’ve done our part,” he said. “When you put as much money into schools as we did, it makes the schools happy. We also have tax breaks, which makes conservatives happy.”GOP leaders plan to empty campaign coffers to publicize the session’s big accomplishment - pouring more money into schools, buying down school property tax rates. Also, new revenue-growth limits will slow future growth of property tax bills.University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said state GOP politicians have a case to press.“Down ballot, most Republicans are going to have something that they can put their face in front of,” he said. “If they are savvy and strategic about their messaging, that can appeal to voters who otherwise do not know who they are -- or possibly would vote against a Republican Party they’re angry with because of Donald Trump.”Rural legislators should be happy the Legislature this year sidestepped private-school vouchers, he said. “They also have a shield” because they passed a half-dozen red meat items, such as the “save Chick-fil-A” bill and some anti-abortion rights measures, he said.Frank, 52, a sheet-metal manufacturing plant owner who with his wife has home-schooled six sons, represents a stretch of Northwest Texas that inspired Larry McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show.” Under new Speaker Dennis Bonnen, he headed the House’s Human Services panel.“The results of the session are pretty easy to sell,” he said with a smile.Also, 2020 will be the first election since lawmakers last session decided to end straight ticket voting. That should hurt Democrats more than Republicans, Frank said.In four terms, he has never had a serious race. His district is 75% Republican, so if he ever has a challenger, it will be in the GOP primary, he said.“The nice thing is the tea party seems to be still pretty happy with me. But also, the establishment’s pretty happy with me. And the schools certainly should be happy.”  Continue reading...

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