February 18, 2015
By John Reynolds

The Big Conversation

State Rep. José Menéndez handily won election to the state Senate after a high-dollar, contentious race against House colleague Trey Martinez Fischer. The two Democrats were vying to succeed Leticia Van de Putte in the San Antonio-based Senate District 26.

Menéndez lost the first round of the special election by 18 points, but was able to completely turn the tables, winning the runoff contest by 18 points. A huge factor in the race was spending by outside groups allied with Republicans and tort reform interests designed to run up the negatives of Martinez Fischer, who was the more liberal of the two candidates.

Trial lawyers in turn spent heavily on behalf of Martinez Fischer. In all, about $2.3 million was spent in the contest.

Menéndez wasn’t the only candidate on Tuesday night to turn a first round deficit into a runoff win. In the race in House District 13 to find a successor to now state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert defeated former Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski by 14 points in an all-GOP runoff election after having lost in the first round by 10 points.

In House District 17, John Cyrier won the election to succeed Tim Kleinschmidt, holding off fellow Republican Brent Golemon by four points after having come within a few percentage points of winning outright last month. This contest became heated in recent weeks as Cyrier’s public support of bipartisanship became an issue.

The other blowout of the evening came in San Antonio-based House District 123, where former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal easily won election to the seat that was vacated by Mike Villarreal at the outset of the current legislative session. Bernal bested Nunzio Previtera, a State Republican Executive Committeeman who had received the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott in the closing days of the election.

The Day Ahead

• The House convenes at 10 a.m.; the Senate convenes at 10:30 a.m.

• Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht gives the State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature at 11 a.m. We will livestream the speech.

• House Appropriations subcommittees meet again beginning at 7:30 a.m. with the Article II panel taking up the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management and the Department of State Health Services (JHR 120); the Article III panel taking up higher education agencies (E1.030); the Articles VI, VII and VIII panel taking up the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the Texas Lottery Commission, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles (E1.026); and the Articles I, IV and V panel taking up judiciary agencies along with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Texas Commission on Fire Protection and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (E2.030).

• Senate Finance meets at 9 a.m. to take invited testimony on agencies in the Health and Human Services enterprise (E1.036).

• The Texas Association of Business’ two-day annual conference wraps up with a keynote address from House Speaker Joe Straus.

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