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Baker Institute Update: The 2014 elections; Roundtable members gather at fall open house
Nov. 6, 2014: In this edition
Five Questions: The 2014 elections

Tuesday’s elections ushered in a wave of Republican victories in Texas and throughout the country. In Texas, gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and candidate for lieutenant governor Dan Patrick soundly defeated their Democratic opponents, Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte. At the national level, Republicans won a majority in the Senate and now control both chambers of Congress. Mark Jones, fellow in political science, offers his take on what the election results mean for Texas and national politics.

How will the results of the 2014 elections impact Texas’ legislative agenda?
The center of political gravity in the Texas House remains unchanged following the election. Joe Straus will be re-elected as speaker in 2015 with the support of a coalition of centrist and center-right conservative Republicans and Democrats. In contrast, the Texas Senate will shift to the right with the arrival of Dan Patrick as lieutenant governor, the replacement of four centrist conservative GOP senators by four notably more conservative Republicans and the arrival of the Republican Party’s 20th senator (out of 31), Konni Burton of Tarrant County.
 
Patrick is expected to use his control over the legislative agenda in the Senate to champion a wide range of conservative policy priorities. These include property tax relief for homeowners, education reform involving parental choice and charter school expansion, and potentially more hot button issues like open carry, campus carry, and the repeal of the Texas Dream Act.
 
While Patrick should be able to obtain the passage of much of his legislative agenda in the Senate, the legislation’s fate in the House is less certain. Team Straus may require some bills to be modified substantially to obtain passage and simply refuse to even consider other pieces of legislation.
 
What does the Republican sweep mean for Texas Democrats’ efforts to turn the state blue?
In 2010 — not an especially banner year for Texas Democrats — Democrat Bill White lost to Republican Rick Perry in the gubernatorial race by 12.7 percent. In 2014, Democrat Wendy Davis lost to Republican Greg Abbott by 20.3 percent. Democrats received a similar shellacking in all of the other statewide races, lost the only competitive U.S. House (CD-23) and Texas Senate (SD-10) seats in the state and failed to win any seats in the Texas House. In fact, the party lost three Democratic held House seats, including two in the Houston area: HD-23 (Galveston Island, the southeast Galveston County mainland and Chambers County) and HD-144 (Pasadena).
 
The dismal showing by Texas Democrats suggests the party is still a long way from being able to turn the state even purple, let alone blue. Unless there is a GOP meltdown in Austin between now and 2018, Democrats may have a very difficult time recruiting high-quality candidates to run in 2018 as well as raising funds for those candidates and for more general outreach and mobilization efforts over the next four years.
 
The one silver lining for Texas Democrats is that — as was the case in 2010 — Texas ranked dead last in the nation in voter turnout, with an anemic 34 percent turnout rate among registered voters and a 24 percent rate among voting age adults. Democrats thus have a large and untapped potential electorate, and if they can do a better job of getting their supporters to actually participate in the electoral process, then they should be able to make the Democratic Party more competitive statewide in the future. That said, at the present time it is extremely difficult to imagine Texas turning purple or blue this decade.
 
Did Texas’ new voter ID law affect the election outcome?
The Texas voter ID law clearly did not affect the outcome of the statewide races. It could, however, possibly have been the difference between Democratic victory and defeat in some close elections where the Republican candidate won by a very narrow margin, such as the 23rd Congressional District where incumbent Pete Gallego was defeated by Will Hurd (49.7 percent to 47.7 percent), the 144th Texas House District where incumbent Mary Ann Perez was defeated by Gilbert Pena (50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, a margin of only 155 votes), and the 117th Texas House District where incumbent Philip Cortez was defeated by Rick Galindo (52.7 percent to 47.3 percent). However, until we have conducted a dispassionate study of the electoral impact of this controversial legislation, we will not be able to know for sure what effect the law might have had or not have had on any specific races.
 
Republicans have successfully blocked or stalled many of the president’s initiatives in the past. Did the midterms change anything in that regard, or are the results more about 2016?
At this point, President Obama will in all likelihood continue to experience similar difficulties with Republicans blocking many presidential initiatives. Without question, the election results were in many respects a popular rebuke of Obama’s presidency and leadership and will leave Republicans feeling even more emboldened as they face off against the president and House and Senate Democrats over the next two years. However, President Obama will still have more than enough Democrats to sustain his vetoes. Democrats will in the absolute worst-case scenario hold 46 seats in the Senate during the next Congress, four more than needed to block Republican legislation in most instances, assuming the Democrats remain united — something that may not always be the case. For instance, the enhanced GOP majority and control of the legislative agenda should allow Republicans to pass pro-Keystone XL pipeline legislation with the support of a handful of Democrats.

Given the Republican takeover, are voters now acting primarily on party affiliation and registering their dissatisfaction with the president and his party, or do specific issues still matter?
Issues still matter, but here in Texas at least, a large share of voters were casting their vote for most of the candidates on the ballot based almost purely on the candidate's partisan affiliation. For some Republican voters, their vote was intended as a support for Republican policies; for others, it was a signal of disapproval of the Obama administration; and for still others, their decision to vote for the GOP slate resulted from a combination of these two factors.
 
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Roundtable members gather at fall open house



Roundtable members filled Doré Commons on Oct. 28 for the institute's annual fall open house. Members enjoyed wine and hors d’oeuvres while visiting with Baker Institute policy fellows and scholars about current research programs and major accomplishments over the past year. Rice students also spoke with guests about their internships and involvement with the Baker Institute Student Forum, programs that are funded by the Roundtable.
 
Summarizing a few of the institute’s many highlights in the past year, founding director Ambassador Edward Djerejian noted Dr. Peter Hotez’s appointment by the U.S. State Department as the science envoy for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Vivian Ho’s appointment to the executive committee of the Health Policy Institute at the Texas Medical Center, and commended the institute scholars for their collective work. “They are our intellectual capital and make us what we are,” the ambassador said. 
 
The ambassador also welcomed to the institute Regina Buono, the first Baker Botts Fellow in Environmental and Regulatory Affairs; Linda Capuano, fellow in energy technologies; Anna Mikulska, research analyst at the Center for Energy Studies; Katherine Zodrow and Ghasideh Pourhashem, postdoctoral fellows at the Center for Energy Studies; Emilian Vankov and Nathalie Hinchey, graduate student fellows at the Center for Energy Studies; Katharine Neill, Alfred C. Glassell Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy; and Jennifer Herricks, postdoctoral fellow in health policy.  
 
The Roundtable Emerging Leaders and Associate Roundtable — groups for professionals under the age of 45 — have increased their membership to over 200 individuals and were well represented at the event. Among them was Ivor Kristiansen, a graduate student at the Jesse Jones School of Business, who joined the Emerging Leaders to network with like-minded peers and stay current on global affairs. “As a student, I have very little time to keep up with the news, and it’s often biased. I rely on articles and reports issued by the institute to stay informed,” he said.
 
The Roundtable supports the Baker Institute's mission to bridge the world of ideas and the world of action. In the past fiscal year, gifts exceeded $500,000, providing critical unrestricted support to the institute.
 
The Roundtable Open House is one of many benefits that members enjoy, along with free admission to ticketed events like the Founding Directors Lecture Series, free event parking, and other opportunities not available to the public. For more information about joining the Roundtable, contact Vince McElligott at 713.348.2923 or vmcelligott@rice.edu.
 
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