Texas Politics

Turnover in all four-year Texas statewides

Dave McNeely

Dave McNeely

For the first time since Texas went from two-year to four-year terms for most statewide elected officials in 1974, there will be a complete turnover in the people who hold them.

It came close in 1982, 1990, and 1998 – but this is the first clean sweep.

Because Rick Perry dug in as governor for so long, there has been little upward mobility. But when he finally said in July of 2013 that 14 years would be enough, the rush for the open jobs exploded.

Five of the six statewide four-year officeholders said they wouldn’t seek re-election.

Perry, of course, leaving to run for president again.

Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott ran for governor. Comptroller Susan Combs decided to retire.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced for lieutenant governor.

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples also announced for lieutenant governor.

The only incumbent who sought to keep his job was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. But state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston also got into the lieutenant governor’s race, knocked off Patterson and Staples, and then Dewhurst in a runoff.

A clean sweep.

We’re talking about the offices with four-year terms.

They don’t include the three Texas Railroad Commission members, who serve staggered six-year terms – although the commission also had a vacant seat this election when incumbent Barry Smitherman left to make a losing race for attorney general.

And they don’t include the federal statewide officials — Texas’ two United States senators, who serve six-year terms. Republican incumbent John Cornyn did seek re-election this year.

And they don’t include the nine justices of the Texas Supreme Court and the nine on the Court of Criminal Appeals, who also serve staggered sixyear terms.

One other thing: there is one fewer statewide office since 1995, when the state treasurer’s job was eliminated by amending the Texas Constitution.

(Ironically, the treasurer’s job was the statewide springboard for both the late former Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican.)

So while there were seven four-year term offices beginning in 1974, for the last two decades there have been just six.

The average turnover in four-year statewides per election is just above three. But in 2010, there were zero. Everyone stayed put, frozen in place by Perry.

Here’s a look at the elections, by year. The number of offices changed are in parentheses.

1974 – (1). The first election with four-year terms saw incumbents holding two-year terms win every office except comptroller, where former Secretary of State Bob Bullock had scared 26-year Comptroller Robert S. Calvert, 81, into deciding to retire.

1978 – (4*). Bill Clements became the first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction. Democrat Mark White became attorney general. *Democrat Reagan Brown, appointed in 1977 to replace 26-year Agriculture Commissioner John C. White when he left to become assistant U. S. Secretary of Agriculture, was elected to the job. *Democrat Warren G. Harding, appointed in 1977 to replace 26-year Treasurer Jesse James, who died, won a four-year term.

1982 – (5). A Democratic sweep saw Mark White unseating Republican Gov. Clements; Jim Mattox elected attorney general; Garry Mauro, land commissioner; Jim Hightower, agriculture commissioner; and Ann Richards, treasurer. The only holdovers were Bill Hobby as lieutenant governor, and Bullock as comptroller.

1986 – (1). The lone change in four-year officeholders was Republican Bill Clements, reclaiming the governorship from Democrat White.

1990 – (6). A big year — every office except that of Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who was re-elected. The newbies were Democrats Richards as governor, Comptroller Bullock as lieutenant governor, state Rep. Dan Morales as attorney general, Railroad Commissioner John Sharp as Comptroller; and two Republicans – state Rep. Rick Perry as agriculture commissioner and former state Rep. Kay Bailey Hutchison as treasurer.

1994 – (2). Republican George W. Bush unseats Democratic Gov. Richards, and Democrat Martha Whitehead, whom Gov. Richards had appointed treasurer when Hutchison won a special election for a U.S. Senate seat. Whitehead won on a pledge to discontinue the treasurer’s office.

1998 – (5). A big turnover — all offices except governor, with Republican Bush easily re-elected. Republicans enjoyed their first-ever clean sweep, electing Perry lieutenant governor, Cornyn attorney general, Carole Keeton Strayhorn comptroller, David Dewhurst Land Commissioner, and former state Rep. Combs agriculture commissioner. Democrat statewide drought begins.

2002 – (3). New are Dewhurst as lieutenant governor, Abbott as attorney general, and former state Sen. Jerry Patterson as land commissioner.

2006 – (2). Republican Agriculture Commissioner Combs is elected comptroller when Strayhorn runs for governor, and state Sen. Todd Staples wins agriculture commissioner.

2010 – (0). Gov. Perry’s decision to seek an unprecedented third fouryear term basically froze the political ladder, and every incumbent sought and won re-election.

2014 – (6). The first-ever complete turnover.

DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.

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