In-Depth

GOP, Dems Kick Off Massive Fundraising Efforts For Control Of Texas House

The party that runs the House after 2020 will literally redraw the landscape of Texas politics for the next decade.

Texas House of Representatives.

Just nine seats separate Republicans and Democrats for control of the Texas House. With that control comes the ability to draw maps not only for the state legislature but also for Texas’ congressional districts. The financial race to determine who will wield that power after the 2020 elections is already underway.

Five million dollars. That’s how much State Representative Charlie Geren of Fort Worth told the Texas Tribune Republicans aim to raise to defend their majority in the Texas House in 2020.

“You know, that was off the top of my head,” Geren told Houston Public Media. “That’s a good number, but I don’t know if that’s a realistic number yet. We, actually, we’re just now getting started raising the money.”

Geren is one of the leaders of the new political action committee Leading Texas Forward PAC. The group has enlisted legendary Republican strategist Karl Rove as its treasurer.

“We’re setting up some fundraising events in different locations around the state, where Karl Rove’s going to come to some of those, and we’re going to host these others ourselves and solicit donations from, you know, across the board, $1,000 donations or $100,000 donations,” Geren said. 

Ordinarily, this sort of fundraising would be the job of the top Republican in the House. And Texas Speaker Dennis Bonnen did set up a PAC of his own, donating more than $3 million to it in campaign funds. But that was before Bonnen’s career imploded in scandal in October. 

“I doubt that candidates will want to take that money while Bonnen is still speaker,” said Tracy Marshall, director of the non-profit Transparency Texas. “And he technically is until he resigns, because I think that sets them up for a Democrat attack, that they’re taking money from a corrupt politician – I mean, I think that’s the narrative the Democrats would take.”

Republicans will need as much money as they can get for the House races, because Democrats are planning a huge fundraising push, both in and outside Texas.

State Representative Celia Israel of Austin is head of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee. “I’ve heard the phrase often that Texas is an ATM state,” Israel said. “We too frequently have progressive candidates who come through Texas and take their money elsewhere. And there’s a lot of excitement for us to stop being the ATM state and start being an attractive place for people to put their money to have a historic change in Texas.”

That’s because in 2020, there’s a lot more on the line than just who gets to name the next speaker of the house. “The speaker would have the ability to determine the makeup of the redistricting committee. And by law, that’s the most important thing we do every 10 years, after the state budget, is draw new lines,” Israel said.

Texas is on track to pick up at least three new congressional seats after the next census, meaning the next House will get to draw at least 39 congressional districts. Israel’s group is far from the only one engaged on the Democrats’ side. Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is encouraging his supporters to donate to a group called Flip the Texas House.

And then there’s U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “When Nancy Pelosi came to Texas back in the summer, she declared Texas ground zero for 2020, and really their most important goal will be the Texas House,” said Tracy Marshall of Transparency Texas. “So I expect we’ll see a lot of money coming in, not just from inside Texas but from around the nation.”

There’s also a wild card in the mix. Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has set up his own PAC, Texas Forever Forward, to which he’s donated $2.5 million. Straus is a Republican, but it’s far from clear that all his PAC’s money will go to GOP candidates.

The next round of campaign finance reports are due out in mid-January. That’s when we’ll know how much the two sides have raised as the 2020 contest begins in earnest.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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