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Is Tea Partier James White Under Assault From His Own Party?

Says establishment Republicans "had a mission to make sure we would never have a large majority again."
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Rep. James White, the East Texas freshman and staunch Tea Party Republican, just discovered he will face a primary challenger—in the form of his current colleague, Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

Hamilton is in the midst of moving to Hardin County. Thanks to the new district lines that the Legislature just passed, that means both Hamilton and White, who lives in Tyler County, will face each other in a Republican primary to battle out who will represent District 19. Both men have confirmed they plan on running against one another. 

Hamilton says he’s been planning the move, and knew for certain before the House voted for the new districts. “It was before we voted for the maps and after the maps were already out,” he said. 

When the state House redrew district lines in the spring using the 2010 U.S. Census data, most newspapers reported that Hamilton had been “paired” with Rep. Allen Ritter, R-Nederland, meaning under the new lines, the two incumbents were now living in the same district. Redistricting is an inherently political process, and those in control (in this case the Republicans) are always trying to make the draw a map that will magnify the impact of their voters and minimize support for the opposition. It’s also an opportunity for the leadership to punish those members who have fallen out of favor.

That’s why the Ritter-Hamilton pairing was a bit of a surprise. “Pairing” was bound to happen with the Republican 101-seat majority; it would be very difficult to draw a map that protected all the incumbent Republican seats. But Ritter had helped give the Republicans their supermajority when he and another member switched parties before the Legislative session began. Meanwhile Hamilton has been a pretty consisten supporter for Speaker of the House Joe Straus. 

White, on the other hand, threw his lot in with the anti-Straus crowd. White, who’s African American, ran as a Tea Party candidate, and won an unexpected victory against longtime lawmaker Jim McReynolds. I actually profiled his race back in October. Upon arriving at the Capitol, joined 14 of the most conservative members of the House in voting against Straus for speaker (despite there being no opposition). Throughout the session, he was one of the most extreme conservative votes.

Hamilton has had a much longer tenure in the House than the neophyte White, and that will likely give him a campaign advantage when it comes to fundraising. On a more disturbing note, during White’s previous race, many speculated that he would have trouble overcoming racial prejudice in the district. While he won in the midst of a Republican wave, such prejudice could be more of an issue in a GOP primary against opponent. White, however, is optimistic about his chances. “I think we’ll be alright,” he said. 

Hamilton says for his part, the race will be a positive one, focused on what he can for constituents, and that Speaker’s race politics have nothing to do wtih his decision. He says he’s been planning on moving to Hardin County for a while now.

Hamilton says he thought his move was pretty public. But turns out White never got that memo. “I thought I was the only incumbent!” White said. 

He also says House leaders didn’t like having a supermajority because it “increased the level of responsibility and accountability.” Many moderate members referenced the unprecedented level of power that Tea Party groups and anti-tax groups like Empower Texans had around the Capitol. Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads Empower Texans, could inspire fear in moderate Republicans with the threat of negative blogposts.

White argues that because the leadership disliked such scrutiny, the ultra-conservatives like him are under attack, rather than getting protection. “The establishment Republicans in the House, I do not think they like having 101 Republicans,” he said. “They had a mission to make sure we would never have a large majority again.”

This could get exciting.