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Three legislators announce their departure

The first to say goodbye is Rep. Sylvester Turner.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Representative Sylvester Turner fought back tears today as the House gave him a bipartisan farewell as he concluded a 26-year legislative career to run for Houston mayor. “My time is up. My season is about here. And Mr. Speaker, in 24 hours, my desk will be clear,” Turner told the House, his eyes filled with tears.

Turner, who sometimes is called the “conscience of the House,” had once contemplated a career in the ministry before turning to law and politics. “God made me a very passionate person,” Turner said. “For twenty-six years, I have made this my ministry. And I’ve tried to hold true to it.”

Win or lose, Turner said he always tried to make a difference.

“I have given it my best. I have fought hard for the things I believe. I have done my best to keep them at the front. I have not won every battle. Every vote has not come my way, but I have given it all that I could,” Turner said.

At one point, he choked up and could not speak. Taking a white handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his eyes.

“I love each and every one of you,” he told his colleagues. “Whether we have voted together or not is not important to me. Whether you are a D or an R is not important to me. The reality is we are Texans, but proud Texans.”

There has been some confusion in published reports about the exact nature of Rep. Turner’s plans. I emailed his campaign and have confirmed that while he is not running for re-election, he will not resign his seat until he wins the Houston Mayor’s race. (Yes, “wins” was the term used in our correspondence. What would you have expected?) I suppose that could leave some wiggle room in the event he loses, but I see no reason not to take him at his word. I expect there will be a spirited primary for HD139 next March.

Next, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the Chair of the House Public Education committee, announced his departure.

When the Texas Legislature tackles a long overdue overhaul of the state’s school finance system, it will have to do without the lawmaker who has shepherded its two chambers through complex education issues for the last two sessions.

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, announced Monday he will not seek re-election after almost a decade in the Texas House.

“Let me urge you as you go forward to not think about the extremes on the right or the left but to think about good policy,” Aycock said in an emotional parting speech on the House floor, as he asked his colleagues to remember that the state’s 5.2 million school children depended on them.

Known for his plainspoken good humor — and his deft balancing of the diverse and often warring factions within the education community — the veterinarian, rancher and former school board member has served as the chamber’s Public Education Committee chairman since 2013.

“I don’t think there is anybody in this body who has garnered the respect that you have for your evenhanded way of dealing with things, authentic way of being, and willingness to do what’s right for the state of Texas,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told Aycock on the floor Monday.

I’ll have more to say on this in a minute. Rep. Aycock had been rumored to be leaving. He’s been an honest broker and a good Public Ed chair. I don’t know who’s next in line – Rep. Alma Allen is the Vice Chair, but there’s no way that a Dem will get the gavel; looking at the other members, I’d guess Rep. Dan Huberty, with Rep. Marsha Farney, a former SBOE member, as a dark horse possibility – but he or she will have a tough act to follow.

And finally, Rep. Joe Farias also chose to hang them up.

After five sessions in the Texas House, Democratic state Rep. Joe Farias of San Antonio announced Monday that he will not seek re-election.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Farias emerged as a key player this year in the fight against proposed cuts to the Hazlewood program, a popular college tuition initiative benefiting Texas veterans. Ahead of the debate on Hazlewood, Farias gave an emotional speech in which he asked his colleagues to not break a promise the state had made to its veterans.

“Why take from them when they’ve given so much?” Farias said in his speech about veterans and their families. The bill aimed at reining in Hazlewood’s costs died after Farias and other military veterans in the House rallied against the proposal.

Democratic state Rep. Armando Walle of Houston, Farias’ deskmate in the House, announced his colleague’s retirement.

“What you have sacrificed for this country, Joe, none of us can ever repay you,” Walle said after announcing Farias’ departure.

I met and interviewed Rep. Farias during his first campaign in 2006. A good guy and a good member, and his departure is a good opportunity for an up-and-comer.

What makes these latter two announcements interesting is that HDs 54 and 118 pass for what counts as swing districts in Texas. Here’s the relevant election data:

2012 Dist Romney Obama Romney% Obama% ======================================== 054 25,343 21,909 52.9% 45.7% 118 17,824 22,234 43.3% 55.2% 2014 Dist Abbott Davis Abbott% Davis% ======================================== 054 14,945 9,086 61.1% 37.1% 118 10,452 11,899 45.8% 52.1%

Basically, a Dem could win HD54 in 2016, but would have a very hard time holding it in 2018, barring a fundamental change in off-year turnout patterns. Similarly, a Republican could win HD118 in an off year, but probably not a Presidential year. Still, as these are two non-hopeless seats, I’d expect them to be very much on the radar next year. All of this is modulo any potential court-mandated changes to district lines. I don’t expect any changes to HD54, though one could draw it as a Dem-majority district (there was at least one proposed map in 2011 that did so), but HD118 could change, if only as a consequence of HD117 changing. I’ll be keeping an eye on them no matter what. In the meantime, my best wishes to all three of these Reps as they enter the next stage of their lives.

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One Comment

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    Add State Sen. Troy Fraser today. His district includes all of Aycock’s, FWIW. I suspect the first question people will ask re: SD24 is whether Harvey Hilderbran wants to take a try at it.

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