A redistricting surprise?

Matt Mackowiak at Must Read Texas has raised an interesting sidelight that results from the fact that Texas state senators are elected to “staggered” four-year terms with about half being elected every two years. This means that in 2014 about half of our state senators should be up for reelection while the other half will not be up for reelection until 2016.

Because we redrew the maps for the senate and other offices back in 2011, all of these senators were elected to districts that were officially new since they were created in 2011. These districts may look largely like the old districts, but redistricting mean that these districts were born again and new and every senate seat was up for election in 2012.

So, how do we get to staggered senate elections with about half every two years? Back in January, Texas senators drew lots to determine whether their new term would be two or four years (“Senators Draw Lots to Determine Terms“). Sixteen senators won the right to serve the deluxe 4-year term with the rest got a two-year term and reelection in 2014.

This is important to senators for a couple of reasons.

First, elected officials prefer running for office as infrequently as possible. If you’re already in office an election is just a chance to get knocked out of office. Also, campaigns are very expensive and time-consuming. If you have won the privilege of serving a four-year term you’re not going to be very interested in drawing lots again and having to run for reelection in two years. On the other hand, those senators currently set to serve only two years this term are ready to toss the dice again.

There’s a second issue: seeking statewide office. In Texas you can not be on the ballot for two different offices (a special law was passed to allow LBJ to run for vice president and US Senator–but that’s a different level of the game). That means that any senator up for reelection in 2014 has to choose between running for statewide office or seeking reelection to their senate seat.  Senators who drew four-year terms back in January can run for statewide office in 2014 with the knowledge that they can keep their seat in the Senate while they campaign for another office. Currently, two Republican senators (Glenn Hegar, Katy and Tommy Williams, The Woodlands) are thinking about runs for statewide office. Those statewide campaigns might look very different for Hegar and Williams if Senate were to have to draw lots again and they drew two-year terms.

Of course, there’s the possibility that the Senate could exempt themselves from this process. Sixteen senators did “win” the right to a four-year term, but 15 “lost” that lottery and were left with the consolation prize of an initial two-year term. It adds an interesting dimension to the redistricting session.

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