Legislative turnover on tap

Personnel turnover either freshens governing bodies or it poisons them, depending on who succeeds the members who are exiting the stage.

The Texas Legislature is on the cusp of seeing an astonishing turnover of veteran senators and House members. At last count, 28 House members are either retiring from public life or are surrendering their seats to seek another public office. Five Texas senators aren’t seeking re-election. As the story by Gromer Jeffers Jr. points out in the Tuesday Dallas Morning News, several “moderate Republicans” are among those who are leaving the Senate. They include, Jeffers wrote, my old pal Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Larry Taylor of Friendswood, as well as Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, who was described in the Dallas Morning News story as the “fifth-most centrist Republican in the Senate.”

Who will replace these individuals? Given the huge partisan divide in both legislative chambers and the radical elements in both major parties, it doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future of good government.

Retiring state Rep. John Turner, a moderate Dallas Democrat, said the significant turnover in the Legislature “just heightens the polarization.” He talked about Republicans becoming more conservative and Democrats “losing some of their moderates” and how the vacancies could be filled by those with more radical agendas.

Will there be a bipartisan battle between culture warriors as a result? Time will tell. Suffice to say that we remain concerned that the 2023 Texas Legislature is going to become an even more divided and divisive body than its 2021 version. That version was quite divided, indeed. Let us recall how House Democrats fled the state to prevent House Republicans from enacting a controversial bill that sought to restrict voter access for many Texans. Democrats called it “voter suppression,” but Republicans called it “voter protection” against possible future fraud.

Redistricting has played a part in the turnover. Some legislators are leaving because their colleagues created legislative districts that favored candidates from the other party. Some lawmakers are seeking higher office. Democratic state Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, for example, is now running for her party’s nomination for lieutenant governor; her House district now favors the Republican candidate. State Rep. Scott Sanford of McKinney is retiring for the same reason, as his newly redrawn Collin County district favors the Democratic Party candidate.

Legislative turnover isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing by itself. If the newly constituted Legislature takes over in 2023 with the state’s best interests in mind, then we well might benefit from an electoral cleansing. If we welcome more rigid ideologues into the Legislature, then we are in for a rough ride.