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2013 Closes Another Year Of Drama In Texas Politics

Updated: Tuesday, December 31 2013, 12:43 PM CST

Listen closely and you can almost hear the dramatic organs playing out another cliffhanger ending to the annual episode of Texas politics that was 2013.

To the die-hard viewer, it combined the best elements of soap opera and reality television with a generous sprinkling of pro wrestling spectacle to taste. New faces emerged while older ones passed on but the story lines from the Capitol to the campaign trail were rarely without the outsized drama that has defined the Lone Star State's particular brand of civics since the days of Moses Austin.

The year began with the opening of the 83rd Texas Legislature in January. By many accounts, it was one of the least rancorous meetings of that rowdy body in recent memory. That is until the explosive issue of abortion took things supernova. Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis catapulted to the national spotlight with an 11-hour filibuster that ended with a screaming gallery of supporters and a regular session with unfinished business.

Gov. Rick Perry quickly called a special session to come back and pass tough new restrictions on abortion in the state. He also told lawmakers to take up a new plan to finance water infrastructure projects in the drought-stricken state and also a proposal to detour billions of dollars to maintain and build new roads. Legislative congestion over the latter forced a second special session which lawmakers quickly resolved by approving the idea before the governor could find another reason to keep them busy in Austin.

The end of business at the Capitol unofficially opened up the jockeying to move up the professional political ladder in the state. Gov. Perry's decision to step aside after four terms in office at long last uncapped a geyser of ambitions that will promises to bring about the biggest change in the look of state of government in years.

State Sen. Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott are both seeking their party's nominations to square off in the first open election for the governor's mansion since Ann Richards and Clayton Williams squared off a quarter of a century ago.

State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte's virtually uncontested run for the Democratic nod for lieutenant governor all but sets up the first two-woman tag team at the top of a statewide ticket. Meanwhile, on the Republican side of that primary fight, the four-way battle royal between incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, State Sen. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, and Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples has been the must-watch race for fans of good old-fashioned Texas-style swagger and mud-slinging.

That is until Sen. John Cornyn drew an unexpected primary challenge in early December from outspoken conservative Congressman Steve Stockman. The underfunded Stockman launched his run with a screed labeling Cornyn a liberal and a puppet of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Meanwhile, Cornyn's junior colleague continued to blaze a rough-and-tumble trail that put him in contention with Pope Francis for Time magazine's Person of the Year. Sen. Ted Cruz dropped the hammer on his first day in Washington and kept his foot on the Tea Party gas-peddle throughout 2013. His efforts culminated in another high-profile marathon speaking session that proved, if anything, Texans on both sides of the aisle can talk. His twelve-hour monologue on the Senate floor didn't hold up or block any official business, but it did put his vehement opposition to the Affordable Care Act on the national map and earned him wide acclaim or derision – depending on who you talked to – as the mastermind of the federal government shutdown that plunged Republican poll numbers into a bucket of ice (the pendulum swung the other way when federal business resumed and attention turned to the disastrous roll-out of the federal health exchange web site). Cruz walked away from the fight as the undisputed champion of the Tea Party with the political momentum to enter the 2016 presidential race.

If Cruz does end up running, he could find himself in an intra-Texas civil war. Gov. Perry's post-lege activity left little doubt that the erstwhile presidential candidate would jump back into the fray in 2016. Coming off his epic flame-out performance in the 2012 Republican nomination race, Perry appeared to take a more strategic and methodical approach this year. Starring in a series of targeted ad campaigns, Perry blitzed into Democrat-controlled states to spread the gospel of Texas' low-tax, low-regulation business climate. His opponents accused him of poaching jobs but either way, it was a prime opportunity for Perry to appear in crucial battleground states to make his case as a successful leader.

Other major headlines in 2013 included the November election that saw voters passing a slew of new amendments to the State Constitution and having to use their ID's to cast a ballot for the very time under a contentious new law. The U.S. Supreme Court sent a case involving affirmative action in college admission brought by a former University of Texas student back to a lower court which is expected to make a ruling in early 2014. Meantime, the future of state politics is anything but predictable as national Democrats pour in money to the group Battleground Texas and old guard Republican billionaire donors have passed away. Tune in next year to see what happens.

By Caleb Pritchard, KEYE TV News Producer

2013 Closes Another Year Of Drama In Texas Politics

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