In House District 58 Runoff, the Laying On of Hands

by Published on
Philip Eby, left, with state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, posing before the war.
Facebook
Philip Eby, left, with state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, posing before the war.

Remember Philip Eby? No? He’s one of the many candidates this cycle plucked out of obscurity by the constellation of organizations around Midland millionaire Tim Dunn and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans For Fiscal Responsibility/Empower Texans to run in House Districts around the state. Dunn and Sullivan, in their continuing effort to push Texas rightward, want to elect more members of the Texas House who will act as their proxy to boot out current House Speaker Joe Straus. To that end, they’ll support just about anybody.

Eby is their man in House District 58, south of Fort Worth. He doesn’t have much a history of personal or political accomplishment. So perhaps it’s fitting that he’s approached his run for office with the zeal of a man about to lead a cavalry charge on behalf of the Khan:

The truth of the matter is that we’re in a war for conservative principles, and we’ve been losing that war. The question is: why are we losing? I’m tired of losing. I don’t know if y’all are tired of losing, but I’m tired of watching freedom lose every time and tyranny take control.

Sun Tzu said in his classic work, The Art of War, that if you know yourself, and you know your opponent, you will never lose. [...] The question is, who is our opponent? Most people today say that the Democrats are our opponent. And they’re right, they are. But in some ways they’re wrong, also. Our opponent is not a person, or a group. Our opponent is an idea. And that idea is the idea of Collectivism.

In Texas, we’ve been winning for years, as Republicans, yet we’re still losing the battle of conservative values so often. It’s because we have Republicans who are infected by the idea of collectivism.

That’s from a speech Eby gave to a conservative gathering in Bosque County in mid-March. He had just won 40 percent of his primary vote, and was settling into a runoff race against DeWayne Burns, who had won 30 percent. Burns, you might be surprised to learn if you’ve listened to Eby’s speech, is not exactly a Maoist: he’s a rancher who’s worked in a variety of state and local government positions and who happens to be conservative in a slightly different way than Eby is. Nevertheless, the rhetoric, already heated in March, has grown increasingly fire-and-brimstone-like as we head toward next Tuesday’s runoff.

Then, earlier this week, a prominent Eby supporter, Maggie Wright, allegedly slapped Burns’ campaign manager, Joy Davis. And then Eby’s campaign, remarkably, blamed Davis.

Davis and Wright, a local tea party organizer who backs Eby, were outside the polls talking to voters during the first week of early runoff voting, and Eby’s supporters were agitated. The two women found themselves talking to the same unfortunate voter. Davis started talking up the fact that Eby’s received much of his support from statewide groups like Empower Texans. Davis told the Cleburne Times-Review what happened next:

“Maggie said, ‘That’s not true,’ and slapped me on my arm twice,” Davis said. “I backed up, pointed my finger and said, ‘Don’t touch me.’ At that point, she made a face at me, like saying I’m being a baby, and swung a [campaign] sign in my direction and at that point Philip [Eby] had to step in and restrain her.”

The police came, and charged Wright with a Class C misdemeanor. Not exactly a heavy charge, but not nothing, either. For her part, Wright says she “lightly touched Davis on her forearm.”

Then, strangely, Eby doubled down. He released a statement blasting… Davis.

“A Burns campaign staffer initiated an angry confrontation with one of my supporters. There was no assault to speak of,” he said. “The supporter DeWayne Burns is attempting to exploit is a 68-year-old woman and guilty of nothing but working hard for the candidates she supports. I hope DeWayne and his Austin consultants can leave District 58 voters alone, and allow them to decide this race for themselves.”

Eby’s rhetoric can seem unhinged, but this has been an exceptionally negative campaign—on both sides. Burns has been attacked in all the usual ways less-than-far-right candidates in the state are traditionally attacked: an Empower Texans post from March notes his “ties” to “notorious Straus lieutenant [state Rep.] Charlie Geren.” State Rep. Jonathan Stickland came out to the polls on Eby’s behalf Wednesday—a show of post-slapping support .

But somewhat unusually, Burns’ supporters have mounted a robust offensive by going after the proverbial men behind the curtain: Dunn and Sullivan. Here’s a site characterizing Eby’s out-of-district backers as “fringe libertarians and a West Texas billionaire” who want to “buy and control our Texas legislators.”

It’s almost a play out of Empower Texans’ handbook. We’ll see if it works next Tuesday. In the meantime, good people of District 58, keep your hands off each other. And to Philip Eby’s warrior spirit, let us all say: love. Love is all you need.