State Race Spotlight: Texas 101st House District

Ben Cannatti and Ford O'Connell

7/19/2010 12:01:00 AM - Ben Cannatti and Ford O'Connell

Every decade the U.S. Congress plays musical chairs to the tune of the Census population counts – only in this re-apportionment version, the number of chairs stays the same, they just move to different states. By the time the counting (but not the arguing) is done in 2011, Texas looks to gain at least 3 additional seats in its Congressional delegation, thanks to strong population growth that has held up even as the recession has slowed growth in other formerly booming states. While Texas’ population growth seems to be concentrated in areas that tend to support Republicans, as pointed out by Josh Goodman at Governing.com, it’s how the district lines are drawn that ultimately determines the partisan composition of the new districts.

In the Texas statehouse, the stakes are even higher, as the district boundaries will shift to reflect the growth at the suburban edges of Texas’ major cities. This will not be a quiet debate, as several rural incumbents could find themselves in a showdown with another incumbent for a consolidated district, while incumbents in the booming areas could find themselves living outside of their districts.

Republicans have almost a 2-to-1 advantage in the Texas Senate, and a 4-seat majority in the larger 150 member Texas House of Representatives. If they can maintain these majorities and retain control of the Governor’s mansion, the GOP will be in the driver’s seat for drawing new lines for the state and Congressional districts.

Still, there is an election between now and when the redistricting process is finalized, and Republicans in the Lone Star State are eager to add some cushion to their slim 4-seat majority in the House chamber. Just 2 years ago, this was an 8-seat margin, so no one wants to coast on the trend lines. And the interests of legislatures facing political oblivion may not align with their party colleagues, leading to potential roadblocks in the process. A fatter majority in the Texas House provides fewer opportunities for the process to go off the rails: “Texas Republicans want to eat state House Democrats for breakfast,” proclaimed a recent Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial. “Republicans are hungry this year. That's easy to see in contests for seats in the Texas House. The GOP wants to turn its thin majority into a fat one, and Democrats seem either not that anxious to take control or just slower in figuring out how to do it.”

Glenn Beck

The 101st House District that encompasses Mesquite, Balch Springs and Sunnyvale is a prime target for the GOP to pick up a seat this year. Currently represented by Robert Miklos, a first-term Democrat, the 101st has seen its fair share of turnover in the last several years. In both 2006 and 2008, the incumbent Congressman failed to emerge from the primary.

The Republican nominee is 20-year Mesquite native, Cindy Burkett. Burkett proved her political strength by emerging from a three-way primary without a run-off, besting a former state representative and a Mesquite City Council member to win the GOP nomination. She has received a number of endorsements including, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility/ Empower Texans, Texas Alliance for Life, Concerned Women of America and an “A” rating from the NRA.

Burkett’s experience as the vice president and co-owner of a company that owns five local Subway Sandwich shops enables her to speak first-hand about the issues of economic growth and job creation. She has an instinctive sense of what government regulation and higher taxes do to small businesses all over Texas and the rest of the country: “Government is not making life any easier for employers. It's time for average folks like us to stand up and take control of our government once again.”

Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson recently told The Dallas Morning News that although Burkett is “certainly going to have to fight,” the incumbent Robert Miklos is “not secure” in his seat. Or, as Craig Murphy, a spokesman for Burkett said about Miklos: “he had one of the most liberal voting records in the Texas House, so he was sort of out-of-step with the district – behavior that, like blood in the water, draws sharks.” Miklos just moved into the 101st district in 2007 and rode the coattails of the 2008 Presidential campaign to a hair-thin 1.2 percent victory margin. He won’t have this same advantage handed to him in 2010. Still, this is not a safe Republican seat, as SMU’s Jillson points out and dislodging any incumbent can be tough. But Burkett’s deep roots in the community and personal track record as a “main street” businesswoman give her a strong shot at moving this seat back to the Republican column.

To learn more about Cindy Burkett’s bid in Texas, visit www.cindyburkett.org.