Competitive races for Texas Senate District seats are rare for any number of reasons but mostly because during redistricting incumbents protect themselves. About the only SD race that “political pros” think is competitive is that for SD-10 between incumbent Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and challenger Rep. Mark Shelton (R). But there is another race that Republican stalwarts should be involved in if they want to give more than lip service to the future and that is SD-20, a South Texas district that has been held by Democrat Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa for the past ten years but is being challenged this year by freshman Rep. Raul Torres.
There are many reasons why the Republican apparatus in Texas should support Rep. Torres but the best one is also the most obvious – he’s already done the “impossible” once. In 2010, he defeated two-term incumbent Solomon Ortiz, Jr. in a huge upset. Then “powers that be” in the Republican leadership decided to favor fellow freshman Rep. Connie Scott (R-34) and good ol’ boy Rep. Todd Hunter (R-32) and redistricted Rep. Torres right out of his seat. He had a choice to make – run against his friend, Rep. Scott, go home and sulk, or try to find the silver in the lining.
Fortunately for Republicans around the state of Texas, he chose to try to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse by challenging Sen. Hinojosa. Why is this important? Well, because if Torres and Shelton win, Senate Republicans will be able to overcome the tradition of the two-thirds rule. You can read more about that here. Can you imagine the possibilities if that is the case?
But why do I think he has a shot? Because I think that the voting trends of South Texas and in this specific district support the possibility. The district is much like a barbell – a population center on each end with not much in between. Here is a map of the district with the two population centers highlighted:
Here is a table of the counties in the district and their vote levels from 2008 and 2010:
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And here is a breakdown of population for the five largest cities in the district:
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The Obama 2008 turnout is not likely to happen but a repeat of 2010 could, along with a heavy turnout in Nueces County. If so, Rep. Torres has a very, very good chance of winning, IF he gets help from the Republican Party of Texas leadership.
But don’t think for a minute that getting R’s to 21 is the driving force behind Torre’s campaign. Make no mistake, he is an advocate for South Texas. I drove down to Corpus and dropped by his campaign headquarters on Airport Blvd. Monday afternoon. Rep. Torres was on his way back from a Republican Women’s function, so I had some time to sit and talk to his volunteers, Celest and Micaela. It’s always a good sign when you walk into a campaign office that is staffed and enthusiastic about their chances. Micaela was making phone calls for a fundraiser that Rep. Torres was holding and appeared to be having some success at getting commitments to attend. Celest is the Nueces County coordinator and gave me an overview of their activities in the Corpus area. I really appreciated them taking the time to entertain me as I waited for Rep. Torres.
When Rep. Torres arrived, we went into his strategy room and he proceeded to explain the district, his campaign, and why he thinks he has a very good chance of winning.
I asked him what his number one problem is with the incumbent, Sen. Hinojosa, and he told me that it was the budget. Turns out that Sen. Hinojosa was the only Democrat in either legislative body to vote for the budget. Rep. Torres actually voted against the budget because he thought that South Texas was shortchanged when it came to the distribution of education funding. He is PASSIONATE about education and the problems that South Texas educators face. I can’t begin to give you a sense of his urgency about the problems they face. Watch this episode of Torres TV to get a feel for it:
Rep. Torres can rattle off statistic after statistic about the problems in education in South Texas and how the incumbent has failed to help address them. Two points that he stressed were:
- The Texas economy, and specifically South Texas, needs an educated workforce.
- The future growth of the Latino population in Texas and the current state of education in South Texas means that industry in the future will not have enough workers and will move to states that do.
That last point is critical, not only for South Texas, although I understand his passion for it, but for Texas as a whole. That is the very reason that Ed Hubbard is trying to start a constructive dialogue about the issue. Remember, one of the reasons that Texans revolted from Mexico was the failure of the Mexican government to provide a decent education system. Our constitution requires it – it is time to get it right.
As a CPA, Rep. Torres has made it his passion to cut waste and as such has embraced the concepts of the Theory of Constraints and Lean/Six Sigma. Although his signature bill, HB3149, did not get out of the Local & Consent Calendar Committee, he was able to attach an amendment to Sen. Mike Jackson’s SB-563 which required a pilot waste cutting program to be implemented in the Texas Workforce Commission. And wow, was it ever successful! Please take a few minutes to read the report from the pilot program: Rapid Process Improvement: Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program. A few highlights:
- 48 percent decrease in the average number of days, from 194 days to 101 days, and a sustained increase in the number of determinations per month
- 60 percent decrease in the processing backlog, from five months, to less than two months
- 45 percent increase in the percentage of applications processed by the tax filing deadline, from 60 percent for CY 2011, to 87 percent for CY 2012
Those are some amazing results! As a side note, it is fun to talk to someone that appreciates TOC/Lean/Six Sigma! I’ve been using those techniques for years in manufacturing environments – if you have a process of any kind, these tools will help you improve it. Take it to the bank. Can you imagine the savings that Texas would have today if his original bill would have gotten out of committee? We might need to discuss that at some point since there will be another challenge this year to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.
Texas Republican leadership, listen up! You need to commit to supporting Rep. Torres in this race! As Rep. Torres told me, there are very few events that actually change political history. This election has that potential – imagine having 21 conservative Republican Senators! But even beyond that, think of the future – a South Texas Latino Republican in the Texas Senate could change Texas politics for decades by convincing Latino voters that our shared values are far greater than our differences. I hope that the Republican Party of Texas puts the ORVIS scores aside and thinks long term and puts resources behind Rep. Torres’ campaign.
Believe me, the future of Texas will be brighter for the effort.
State website: Rep. Raul Torres
Campaign website: Elect Raul Torres
Facebook: State Rep. Raul Torres