Robert Duncan

Texas Senate Loses Yet Another Moderate


Above: State Sen. Robert Duncan, (R-Lubbock)

The Texas Tribune’s Reeve Hamilton broke word this morning that state Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) is stepping down to become the next chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. A special election will be called to fill out Duncan’s term, which ends in 2016.

Duncan, a veteran of the Texas Senate, was no liberal. But he was more moderate than many of his colleagues in the Senate GOP caucus, and he was seen as a force for stability by Senate watchers. In 2013, Texas Monthly named him one of the session’s best legislators—the sixth time it had done so. The magazine raved about his “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” In 2009, it stipulated that “there was hardly an issue—the budget, eminent domain, health care reform, college tuition—that wasn’t improved by his intellectual rigor and deft touch as a mediator.”

Now he’s leaving—and if current trends hold, he may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.