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Will Texas Democrats Flip The State House? We’re Following The Key Races

The floor of the Texas House of Representatives. (GABRIEL CRISTÓVER PÉREZ / KUT)

By Paul DeBenedetto, Houston Public Media

Democrats think they have a shot at flipping the Texas House of Representatives for the first time since 2002 -- and if they do, there’s a lot that can change come 2021.

State House Republicans have a slim eight-seat majority over Democrats. But the state Democratic Party has identified 22 races as priorities this election cycle, even as the party looks to defend 12 seats it flipped in 2018.

The Texas House last flipped to Republicans in 2002, and has remained conservative throughout the last 18 years, redrawing congressional district lines that helped solidify Republican influence.

Democrats now have their own shot at reshaping how the district maps are drawn: Next year is again a redistricting year, and a flipped House means Democrats would have more of a role in shaping Texas’ political future.

MORE | Listen to KUT’s podcast series, “The Big Flip”

That’s one reason national groups are spending big money to elect Democrats across Texas, including $12 million from the group Forward Majority -- double the amount the national Democratic super PAC had initially pledged to spend.

In their best case scenario, Democrats would only control one chamber of the state legislature, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would still lead the state.

But a flipped state house would also mean Democrats could influence the choice of next House speaker. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the current speaker, announced in October that he would not seek reelection after just 10 months on the job. Bonnen was caught on tape disparaging other members of the House, leading to calls for his resignation from members of both parties.

Legislators who have filed for the speaker race include Houston's Senfronia Thompson, as well as Oscar Longoria from Mission and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio. Republicans Dade Phelan of Beaumont, Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Chris Paddie of Marshall and Geanie Morrison of Victoria have all filed as well.

In addition to redistricting, COVID-19 is sure to play an outsized role in the 87th legislative session -- especially as lawmakers have to contend with a budget shortfall thanks to falling sales tax revenue since the beginning of the pandemic.

Of course, Democrats come up short. Or, they could pick up just eight seats -- leading to an unprecedented tie in the state House.