There have been, roughly speaking, two groups of tea party legislators that took seats in the Texas House in the last few years. One group seemed more or less happy to be there, and one group seemed like it was a few incitements away from pulling a full Guy Fawkes on the Pink Dome. State Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), who lost his bid for promotion to the state Senate last night, and is forfeiting his House seat in the process, was of the latter camp.
In the special election runoff in Senate District 4, Toth’s fellow state Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) won the day, taking almost 70 percent of the vote to Toth’s 30 percent. It was an unusually lopsided victory, given recent dynamics in Senate elections across the state. But it didn’t hurt that Creighton outspent Toth by more than 3 to 1.
The Texas Senate has lost some of its most important dealmakers in the last year. The pragmatists and moderates have been ruthlessly culled, and next session will see a number of bomb-throwers join the chamber’s ranks. Senate District 4 was formerly represented by state Sen. Tommy Williams, who left to take a job with Texas A&M. He crafted the budget last session, and played an important role in keeping legislators on task on issues like transportation funding.
Toth’s most famous bill might have been an attempt to nullify federal gun laws, but he still fits the mold of recent Republican Senate primary victors better than Creighton. It’s not that Creighton is a liberal GOPer. As the Houston Chronicle noted in its endorsement of Creighton, the difference between the two men isn’t so much one of ideology as of temperament:
To understand the difference between the two candidates seeking to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams in state Senate District 4, look at their reactions to the surge of Central American children crossing our border. For state Rep. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, it is a “full-blown humanitarian crisis.” For state Rep. Steve Toth of The Woodlands, it is a “full-blown invasion.”
Lately, Toth’s been hugging fringe immigration groups like Stop the Magnet, which wants to make life more dangerous and difficult for undocumented immigrants in order to get them to self-deport, or stay far away from Texas. That’s been a recipe for victory for candidates in other districts, like Bob Hall, who narrowly defeated longtime incumbent Sen. Bob Deuell.
But it didn’t work in SD 4. Even with the strong backing and support of groups like Empower Texans, Toth underperformed in the special election in May, nearly losing the second-place position to a Coast Guard vet with no experience in office. Then he severely underperformed in the runoff—despite the fact that Toth’s home base, The Woodlands, has quite a few more people than Creighton’s, Conroe.
Still, if Creighton’s victory over Toth is a small positive sign for the Senate next session, it’s probably not a sign of much more. For one thing, Creighton walloped Toth in the money department—Toth had a healthy amount of financial assistance from conservative groups like Empower Texans in the first part of the race, but that seemed to collapse by the end. In July, Toth took in just $13,000 to Creighton’s $213,000, and spent only $52,000 to Creighton’s $177,000.
And Creighton, as mentioned before, is a pretty conservative fellow. That fact might have denied Toth the room he needed to stage a proper challenge. But as a side effect, the Texas House is losing one more member of the 2010 and 2012 tea party waves.