Texas voters showed up in record numbers for the 2018 midterms, sending mixed messages as Democrats flipped at least two Republican congressional districts—on top of the 12 seats they picked up in the Texas House—while Republicans maintained control in major statewide races.
Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz defeated challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke by less than 3 percent in one of the nation’s most hotly contested and closely watched races. When first elected to the Senate in 2012, Cruz defeated Democratic challenger Paul Sadler by a 16 percent margin.
A member of Second Baptist Church in Houston, Cruz was outspent by O’Rourke, who set record fundraising numbers and drew national attention thanks to celebrity endorsements and his commitment to not receive donations from political action committees.
In his victory speech, Cruz thanked O’Rourke for a well-run campaign.
“I want to take a moment to congratulate Beto O’Rourke. He poured his heart into this campaign. He worked tirelessly. He’s a dad, and he took time away from his kids. Millions across this state were inspired by his campaign,” Cruz said. “But let me say to all of those who worked on his campaign, all of those who were inspired, that I am your senator as well.”
Cruz also took time to thank his wife and “best friend in the world,” Heidi, as well as his two daughters.
“In the course of this campaign [she] shouldered responsibilities at work, at home, juggling a thousand balls backward on a unicycle,” he said. “And I want to thank our girls, Caroline and Catherine. It is hard having Dad on the road all the time,” he said, “and I could not possibly be prouder of the two of you.
“It is my hope that, with the bitterness and division that we see nationally, Texas can be a model for how we can come together—disagree, yes—but with civility, respecting each other’s decency, respecting each other’s humanity, treating each other the way each of us would like to be treated,” Cruz said in conclusion. “My hope is that Texas can help lead the way to bring this country together.”
Other Southern Baptists won key elections across the state last week as well. Embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton, a member of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, edged out opponent Justin Nelson by just under 4 percent, the closest margin of any statewide candidate other than Cruz.
Scott Sanford of Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, who succeeded Paxton in the Texas House District 70 seat in 2012, and Ed Thompson of District 29, a member of Sagemont Church in Houston, were both reelected to the Texas House. Kelly Hancock, a member of The Village Church, was reelected as Texas State Senator for District 9.
In addition to the significant elections in Texas, other ballot measures in neighboring states have the potential to make an impact in the state, such as Arkansas’ passage of a proposal legalizing casino gambling in four counties. Though Paxton issued an opinion letter in 2016 declaring fantasy sports illegal, the measure has been attempted before and will most likely be brought up again in the 2019 legislative session.
According to Cindy Asmussen, ethics and religious liberty advisor to the SBTC, any legalized gambling in Texas, particularly the more likely possibility of legalizing fantasy sports, could bring with it inherent dangers.
“This bill is an expansion of gambling and is targeted to the young millennials who are constantly on an electronic device,” Asmussen said. “It will bring the casino to the home, work station, college dorm and smart phone.
“Proponents are deceitfully blurring the difference between traditional, season-long fantasy sports—which started as a hobby, form of community, and social activity—to Daily Fantasy Sports, which incorporate the three elements of gambling: consideration, chance, and prize,” she said.
Sanford expressed similar sentiments.
“Legislators often hear the appeal of those who support legalized gambling with phrases such as, ‘Let’s keep Texas money in Texas.’ Of course, we already know that legalized gambling brings more government, more crime, and more social maladies,” Sanford said. “I believe a good response to the argument is to simply ask, with all due respect to our neighboring states, ‘Do we really want to be like Louisiana and Oklahoma?’”
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said that, while last week’s election resulted in a divided Congress, “Our commitments as Christians remain unchanged.
“We look forward to working with every elected official sent to D.C. as we carry out our mission bearing witness to the gospel and its implications for the public square,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments for Baptist Press.
Sanford said that, in the wake of the election and in the lead-up to the Texas legislative session, the most important thing Southern Baptists can do is pray.
“The next legislative session will provide new opportunities and challenges for representatives across the state. One new opportunity that all Texans have today is to begin to pray for the session, and to pray for the likely new Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen. We should ask God to give Rep. Bonnen great wisdom and a smooth transition,” he said. “I would encourage Texans to pray for new opportunities to protect unborn babies, the freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, and to push aside state-sponsored secularism.”