Around the Texas Capitol: Legislative committee to review Panhandle wildfires; incumbents’ fates await primary runoffs

Around the Texas Capitol: Legislative committee to review Panhandle wildfires; incumbents’ fates await primary runoffs

Return to March 2024 Dairy Dispatch

Note: Content below was posted and current as of March 14, 2024

Around the Texas Capitol:
Legislative committee to review Panhandle wildfires;
incumbents’ fates await primary runoffs

By Lauren Fairbanks and J Pete Laney
TAD Governmental Affairs

Just as Texans were going to the polls to vote in the primary election (analysis below), our neighbors in the Panhandle were continuing to fight the largest fires in the state’s history. Our sympathies go out to the families of those who perished as well as those who lost homes, businesses, crops and livestock in the fires, which now have sparked an investigation by a Texas legislative committee.

Elsewhere in this newsletter you can find information on how you can assist those impacted by the fire. It will be a long road to recovery.

Legislature to review wildfires

As the Panhandle continues to assess the damage and recover historic wildfires, the Texas Legislature is beginning its preparedness and response review. Speaker of the House Dade Phelan on March 12 issued a proclamation creating the Investigative Committee on the Panhandle Wildfires, a special committee tasked with looking at what contributed to the cause of the fires, the allocation of response resources, effectiveness of wildfire disaster preparedness, and the coordination between local, state and federal resources.

The committee will be led by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), whose Panhandle district was heavily damaged in the fires, and will include Reps. Dustin Borrows (R-Lubbock) and Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), along with public members Jason Abraham and Ashley Cash. The committee is expected to hold hearings the first part of April and will likely hear from state response leaders, first responders, landowners and others.

The committee is to issue a report by May 1 to include its findings, including recommended legislative solutions and other actions for preventing future wildfires and improving wildfire disaster preparedness, response and mitigation.

You can follow the committee’s activity here.

Primary election update

Voters cast their ballots in the March 5 primary elections after one of the most expensive and contentious primary campaign cycles in recent history. When the results were tabulated, a record number of nine House incumbents were ousted. That number could increase after eight Republican and one Democrat incumbents were forced into a primary runoff election on May 28.

The nine Republican House incumbents defeated were Reps. Steve Allison (San Antonio), Ernest Bailes (Shepherd), Travis Clardy (Nacogdoches), Jill Dutton (Ben Wheeler), Jacey Jetton (Richmond), Glenn Rogers (Graford), Hugh Shine (Temple), Reggie Smith (Sherman) and Kronda Thimesch (Carrollton).

Still awaiting their fate in the primary runoffs are Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont); Republican Reps. DeWayne Burns (Cleburne), Frederick Frazier (McKinney), Justin Holland (Rockwall), Stephanie Klick (Fort Worth), John Kuempel (Seguin), Lynn Stucky (Denton) and Gary VanDeaver (New Boston); and Democratic Rep. Shawn Thierry (Houston).

If history is any indication, these incumbents have a steep hill to climb in the May runoff. Since 1996, just 10 of 38 incumbent legislators forced into runoffs prevailed (26%), including a history-bucking three out of four in 2022.

Across the rotunda, the Senate had two open-seat races. Both will be determined in the runoff. In the only contested Senate race, incumbent Democrat Sen. Nathan Johnson (Dallas) handily defeated challenger House Rep. Victoria Neave Criado (D-Dallas).

Here is a rundown of what you can expect on the May ballot:

  • SD 15 (OPEN). Rep. Jarvis Johnson 36.15% v Molly Cook 20.66%
  • SD 30 (OPEN). Brent Hagenbuch 37.71% v. Jace Yarbrough 33.44%
  • HD 1. Rep. Gary VanDeaver 45.53% v. Chris Spencer 43.05%
  • HD 12 (OPEN). Trey Wharton 34.98% v. Ben Bius 32.66%
  • HD 21. David Covey 46.31% v. Speaker Dade Phelan 43.24%
  • HD 29 (OPEN). Jeff Barry 48.37% v. Alex Kamkar 44.07%
  • HD 30 (OPEN). Jeff Bauknight 42.06 v. AJ Louderback 40.47%
  • HD 33. Katrina Pierson 39.45% v. Rep. Justin Holland 38.79%
  • HD 37. Ruben Cortez 32.46% v. Jonathan Gracia 25.44%
  • HD 44. Alan Schoolcraft 48.11% v. Rep. John Kuempel 45.04%
  • HD 58. Helen Kerwin 48.9% v. Rep. DeWayne Burns 41.21%
  • HD 61. Keresa Richardson 39.75% v. Rep. Frederick Frazier 32.09%
  • HD 64. Andy Hopper 46.66% v. Rep. Lynn Stucky 43.29%
  • HD 77 (OPEN). Vincent Perez 37.98% v. Norma Chavez 32.17%
  • HD 80 (OPEN). Ceilia Castellano 27.06% v. Rosie Cuellar 25.48%
  • HD 91. Rep. Stephanie Klick 48.09% v. David Lowe 46.1%
  • HD 97 (OPEN). Cheryl Bean 49.57% v. John McQueeny 29.66%
  • HD 139 (OPEN). Angie Thibodeaux 33.38% v. Charlene Ward Johnson 24.01%
  • HD 146. Lauren Ashely Simmons 49.53% v. Rep. Shawn Thierry 44.12%

With 16 representatives and two senators announcing their retirement, and a record nine incumbents defeated outright, there will be significant turnover in the Texas Legislature going into the 2025 session.

Much of the new representation will be in the rural parts of the state, and the remaining months in this legislative interim stands to be a busy one as the Texas Association of Dairymen team works to meet and educate new legislators on the importance of rural Texas, agriculture and the dairy industry.

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