Republican Huffman wins District 17 Senate seat

By Marilyn Tennissen | Dec 18, 2008

Joan Huffman (R)

In a runoff election Dec. 16, Republican Joan Huffman successfully won the seat to represent District 17 in the Texas Senate.
The district includes portions of Jefferson, Harris, Brazoria, Fort Bend and Galveston counties.

Huffman received 56 percent of the votes, compared to Democrat Chris Bell's 44 percent, the Secretary of State Web site said.

During her campaign, the former judge promised to slash state government spending and the state business tax as well as direct more funds to border security and increase accountability in the public school system.

But while Huffman emerged as the winner on Tuesday, Bell was the favorite among voters in Jefferson County. Of 2,642 votes cast in the county, Bell earned an overwhelming 84.52 percent, to Huffman's 15.48 percent.

Bell's campaign had been largely funded by trial lawyers who contributed close to $1 million to the former U.S. representative. Among those making large donations is Beaumont's Provost Umphrey law firm, whose $100,000 contribution was made indirectly to Bell through a trial lawyer group called Texans for Insurance Reform.

Across the district, tort reform advocates helped Huffman win the seat.

On the eve of the election, Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC Director Justin Unruh said Bell was an "enemy of lawsuit reform" who would work for the lawsuit industry if elected.

Huffman graduated from Louisiana State University and then moved to Houston where she went to work as a secretary in the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

While working, she went to law school at night at the South Texas College of Law. After earning her law degree, she became a prosecutor for the Harris County DA.

In 1998, she was elected as judge of the 183rd Criminal District Court in Houston. She has not held public office since 2005.

Bell, a Houston attorney, was elected to Congress in November 2002, but lost his bid for reelection after 2003 redistricting. It was Bell who first filed an ethics complaint against then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, in June 2004.

The District 17 seat was up for grabs after Republican Kyle Janek resigned from the post in June. To fill the vacancy, Gov. Rick Perry called a special election to coincide with the Nov. 4 general election. But in November, neither the Democratic nor Republican candidate succeeded in receiving more than 50 percent of the votes, which created the need for the Tuesday runoff.

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