Wednesday updates: For more coverage of the primary, be sure to read Christopher Hooks’ dispatch from Dan Patrick’s victory party in Houston and Forrest Wilder’s look at Jim Hogan, the political unknown who bested Kinky Friedman and traditional candidate Hugh Fitzsimons in the Democratic ag commissioner race.
12:27 a.m.: And with that we’re calling it quits at Observer HQ. Check back tomorrow for additional reporting and analysis of the primary races.
12:25 a.m.: This was a good night for Texas House incumbents. On the Dem side, freshman Mary Gonzales of El Paso, Texas’s first female LGBTQ legislator, comfortably retained HD-75 at press time with 68 percent of the vote and most precincts reporting. GOP freshman Matt Schaefer defended HD-6 against lobbyist Skip Ogle with a little love from Empower Texans, taking 62 percent. Joe Straus, current speaker of the Texas House, fended off tea-flavored repeat challenger Matt Beebe, who brought home just 39 percent—a whole two whole points more than when he ran against Straus in 2012. —Emily DePrang
New Voices in the Legislature’s Next Big Abortion Fight
If, or when, Republicans in the Legislature go back to the well of extreme limits on abortion access in 2015, we might expect to see a lot of a couple new faces who’re on top of their House races tonight.
In another surprise tea party upset, Rep. Ralph Sheffield fell tonight to Molly White, an Empower Texans-backed activist from Belton who garnered 54% of the vote. White is a staunch anti-abortion advocate who doesn’t just talk big about her cause on the campaign trail. White describes herself as an “international pro-life speaker and an expert in the history of the reproductive rights movement which has led to legal abortion.” She’s the founder and director of Women for Life International-USA, a group that warns of the symptoms of post-abortion stress, the (easily discredited) breast cancer risks from abortion, and best of all, the emotional risks of casual sex. Score one for science in the Lege.
He’s headed to a runoff after tonight, but Conroe pastor Ted Seago figures to be another enthusiastic anti-abortion voice if he makes it to the House. His last name will be familiar to anyone who caught committee hearings on last summer’s abortion bills; his son is Texas Right to Life legislative director John Seago. The elder Seago attracted more than $7,000 from that group and its top officials, and in a campaign video, he credits his son for writing the biggest anti-abortion bills of the last two sessions. He’s facing Will Metcalf in the May runoff. —Patrick Michels
11:53 p.m.: Earlier tonight, I called Harris GOP chair candidate Paul Simpson the conservative Punxsutawney Phil because a win for him could signal moderation afoot. Simpson ran against 12-year incumbent Jared Woodfill for the third time on a platform of broadening the party base and easing off social issues—and he won. With nearly all precincts reporting, Simpson took 53 percent in a three-way race. Woodfill got just 37. This wasn’t a fluke, either. Simpson got a boost from big names like Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and raised $145,000 for a position that doesn’t pay a dime. It does, however, influence the state party’s direction. This should be interesting. —Emily DePrang
One Big Question of the Night: Do Endorsements Matter?
The GOP Ag Commissioner spot was expected to split between former Uvalde mayor J. Allen Carnes and former state rep/Ted Nugent pal Sid Miller. While Miller and another tea partier, Tommy Merritt, fought over who loved guns the most, Carnes accumulated endorsements from relevant parties like Beef PAC, Texas Citrus Mutual, and the Corn Producers Association of Texas—you know, people invested in agriculture. But with 77 percent of precincts reporting, Carnes is dead last of the five candidates and Miller and Merritt look headed for a run-off.
When the Texas Vegetable Association speaks, does anyone listen? —Emily DePrang
11:29 p.m.: Tea party Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who won an upset victory in 2012 against long-time state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, cruised past two challengers and avoided a run-off. With 85 percent of the precincts reporting, Campbell had 55 percent of the vote, compared to moderate-ish businessman Mike Novak’s 20 percent and former San Antonio City Councilwoman Elisa Chan’
s 25 percent. Campbell’s tenure in the Senate so far has been unremarkable. She’s, of course, a reliable conservative vote but seemed shaky, at best, on most policy issues. Her lodestar seems to be a passion for Jesus and pro-life issues. As she told the San Antonio Express-News in December 2012, “There was only one baby ever created for the purpose of dying, and that was Jesus.” She’ll likely have another term in the Senate to build on that record. —Forrest Wilder
Late-Night Update: Some Close Races, Some Not So Much
One of the closest races of the night has been state Sen. John Carona’s reelection bid against Don Huffines, the tea party challenge to one of the Senate’s dwindling moderate Republican members. Huffines leads by just over 600 votes, with a little over two-thirds of the precincts reporting in.
During last summer’s monster debate over new abortion restrictions, West University Place Republican Sarah Davis looked to be inviting a serious primary challenge when she broke party ranks and voted against the bill. She’s the only pro-choice Republican in the Legislature, and though she got plenty of flak from statewide groups, the only challenger she drew was Bonnie Parker, a schoolteacher who lost to Davis in 2010. Davis hauled in serious campaign money from major Republican funders, and tea party groups pretty much left Parker to fend for herself. Davis is up 72-28 with nearly all the votes in.
In Irving, 10-year veteran Republcian House member Linda Harper-Brown—whose district has lately been a tantalizing prize for Democrats—is trailing her tea party challenger Rodney Anderson, with just under half the precincts reporting. Though it’s still an early count, the vote’s leaning 52-48 in Anderson’s favor. Democrats—who’ll be sending one of two lawyers, either Susan Motley or Terry Meza, to the November election—stand a better shot at winning against a more conservative Republican. Anderson, backed by Houston donor and autotune maven Steve Hotze, would seem to fit the bill. —Patrick Michels
10:41 p.m.: One of the longest-serving progressives in the Texas House, Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Forth Worth), lost to challenger Ramon Romero, Jr., in a close race. Burnam was first elected in 1996 and has been, to varying degrees of effectiveness, one of the most persistent critics of Republican rule in Texas. But he was the target of GOP-led redistricting efforts that drew a more Hispanic-heavy district. Burnam fended off a challenger in 2012, but couldn’
t do it again. With Burnam’s loss, there are only five WD-40s (white Democrats over 40) left in the House: Joe Pickett, Donna Howard, Elliott Naishtat, Tracy King and Chris Turner. —Forrest Wilder
10:21 p.m.: Glenn Hegar is killing it in the comptroller’s race. With more than half the vote counted, Hegar has 49.3 percent. He’s close to the magic 50 percent that would win him the GOP nomination outright. That would be mighty impressive in a four-person race.
If there is a runoff, looks like Harvey Hilderbran will be in it. He’s running second to Hegar with 28 percent.
Meanwhile, outsider Debra Medina is having a forgettable night. She’s a distant third with 18 percent.
That’s not exactly how the Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll had the race. In fact, the Trib/UT poll had the opposite order—predicting that Medina was leading with 39 percent and Hegar was in third. It’s one thing to wrongly predict a race. It’s another thing to miss by 20 points.
Anyway, the only suspense that remains is whether Hegar can sneak over the 50 percent line. Stay tuned. —Dave Mann
10:12 p.m.: Sid Miller is leading the Republican race for ag commissioner tonight, but the man who beat him two years ago, Gatesville family doctor J.D. Sheffield looks like he’s secured his return to the Texas House.
Sheffield went into the Legislature hoping to talk about health care policy, and even spoke up to clarify some matters of science during the summer’s abortion debate. He faced a challenge this time around from Danny Pelton, the former county GOP chair who’d been a Miller supporter, and who’s gotten support from Miller this time around. Pelton went after Sheffield as just another Obama-lovin’ moderate Republican, drew endorsements from Republicans like lite guv candidate Jerry Patterson and state Sen. Craig Estes, and got thousands of dollars from the anti-Joe Straus Accountability First PAC
All for naught for Pelton, though, as Sheffield holds a strong 61-32 lead. —Patrick Michels
10:08 p.m.: In the three-way AG race, socially conservative Ken Paxton and slightly less socially conservative Dan Branch appear to be heading for a runoff. That wasn’t a surprise, though it is a surprise that Paxton is currently beating Branch 43-33. Branch had been ahead in the most recent Texas Tribune/UT poll.
The results make the runoff an uphill climb for Branch. Smitherman was a hyperconservative candidate, and his votes will likely head more to Paxton than Branch. —Christopher Hooks
9:55 p.m.: Well, this is just kinda sad…. In the Democratic race for agriculture commissioner, political unknown and Cleburne dairy farmer Jim Hogan, who spent less than $5,000 and received virtually no attention from anyone, is headed to a run-off with Kinky Friedman, the jokester/entertainer who Democrats have disavowed. Hogan doesn’t even have a campaign website.
The “serious” Democratic candidate in this race, bison rancher Hugh Fitzsimons, is running in third. It’s unclear why voters picked Hogan over Fitzsimons. Not even Hogan seems to know why.
As he told the Texas Tribune:
“It is exciting to start off and lead, but I’ve got no uncontrollable joy, you know what I mean?” Hogan said. “I know people are looking at that and saying, ‘Who in the world is Jim Hogan?'” —Forrest Widler
9:36 p.m.: Lady Theresa Thombs, the scene-stealing North Richland Hills realtor and Dame of Justice by the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Justice, has managed just over 6 percent of the vote in her scorched-earth State Board of Education race. Incumbent Pat Hardy, though, is running awfully close to her challenger Eric Mahroum, leading 48-46.
If he and Hardy wind up in a runoff for the seat, Thombs’ tea party support could be the edge he needs to win.
Hardy is a relative moderate on the board, and Mahroum, like Thombs, was running to her right. Hardy has been a respected member of the board—whose members are unpaid and handle not-so-glamorous work of crafting the Texas’ education standards. In candidate forums earlier this year, Mahroum didn’t particularly distinguish himself with specific ideas, apart from advocating for asthma awareness. Mahroum got a sweet $250 campaign contribution from former SBOE chair, dentist and culture warrior Don McLeroy—plus $75 from… Thombs’ husband, Barry.
And speaking of Barry Thombs, Lady Theresa’s husband, he’s on the winning side of a 53-47 squeaker in the race for chair of Precinct 3215. —Patrick Michels
9:32 p.m.: We’ve still got a ways to go—just about 18 percent of the precincts are reporting—but it’s looking like on the Republican side a number of the top races are headed to run-offs. The AP has already called a run-off in the lt. governor’s race between Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst.
In the ag commissioner race, former state Rep. Sid Miller (sonogram law author, Ted Nugent buddy) is leading with 37 percent of the vote trailed by former East Texas Rep. Tommy Merritt at 22 percent.
For attorney general, state Sen. Ken Paxton has 43 percent to Dan Branch’s 32 percent. Barry Smitherman, of the Texas Railroad Commission, trails at 25 percent.
In the Texas Railroad Commission race, former state Rep. Wayne Christian, who used to refer to himself as “the only Christian in the House,” is leading in a four-way race with 42 percent, followed by Friendswood businessman Ryan Sitton at 32 percent.
The GOP race for Texas comptroller is a bit tighter. Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), who ran TV ads featuring his kids and automatic weapons, is ahead of the pack with 48 percent. Long-time libertarian (lowercase ‘l’) Debra Medina seems to have underperformed, relative to a Texas Tribune poll, at 19 percent. State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) lands in the middle with 28 percent.
Bottom-line: Many of the top races on the GOP side—and I’m not counting the ones with candidates like Steve Stockman who never had a chance—could go to a runoff, where turnout is low and the electorate, and therefore the outcome, is unpredictable. —Forrest Wilder\n
David Dewhurst having a rough night so far, with his election night speech panned by some Republicans. A runoff battle with an unexpectedly ascendent Dan Patrick could prove tough.
9:04 p.m.: In the heated race for lieutenant governor, the conventional wisdom posited that incumbent David Dewhurst and firebrand Dan Patrick would win spots in the runoff. So far, it looks like that prediction is holding true. Perhaps the only surprise is Patrick’s margin. With the release of early voting returns, Patrick’s won 43 percent—an impressive feat for a challenger in a four-way race. Dewhurst comes in at a relatively distant second, with 28 percent with nearly 12 percent of the returns in.
That’ll shift as the night goes on, but here at Patrick’s election headquarters, slowly accumulating supporters are delighted with the news, as well as the fact that Patrick has outdone Dewhurst in critical Harris county so far by a more than 3-1 margin. —Christopher Hooks
8:10 p.m.: Dan Patrick may be riding high tonight and Konni Burton is leading in her bid for state Senate, but it’s a bittersweet night for the Dallas Tea Party as its biggest hope, Katrina Pierson, has lost her bid to unseat Congressman Pete Sessions.
Pierson’s had been one of the more prominent tea party vs. the Establishment races, but as our Chris Hooks reported last month, she had a rough few weeks before primary day. Among the late blows to her cause: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio pulled his endorsement away from Pierson in favor of Sessions just days ago. “Ms. Pierson should be ashamed for misleading an individual of such great respect in the law enforcement community and as a national conservative leader,” Sessions spokesman Bruce Harvie told the Dallas Morning News.
The Associated Press called the race for Sessions a few minutes ago, with the congressman leading 69-31. —Patrick Michels
8:09 p.m.: Surprising no one—least of all I suspect George P. Bush—George P. Bush is coasting to a victory in the GOP race for Texas land commissioner. The AP has called the race. Bush had only token opposition from David Watts. Bush ran, as you would expect, a boring, no-risk campaign, coasting to victory on his family name and connections. He gave up few substantive political beliefs and generally avoided the media.
The Democrat is unlikely to defeat Bush in November. —Forrest Wilder
7:51 p.m.: Glenn Hegar has the early lead in the comptroller’s race with 48 percent of the vote, 20 points ahead of his closest competitor. Only 1 percent of the precincts have reported, so it’s too early to tell anything. But it’s worth noting that Hegar’s lead comes from overwhelming advantages in two populous North Texas counties: Denton and Collin. Hegar represents the Houston suburb or Katy, so North Texas isn’t his home turf.
While you mull those results, I’ll wonder whether Hegar owns any stock in hair gel companies. If not, he should. —Dave Mann
7:48 p.m.: Fort Worth Republican state Rep. Diane Patrick has been a favorite target of the GOP’s since she unseated then-House Public Education chair Kent Grusendorf in 2006. Patrick, a UT-Arlington professor, was a favorite of teacher and parent groups, most notably the Texas Parent PAC, and has been a player in the state’s education policy ever since.
She’s easily won reelection since then, but if early results are any judge, that streak may end tonight.
Tony Tinderholt, a U.S. Army captain running far to Patrick’s right, has the 54-46 advantage over Patrick in early results from Tarrant County.
This year, as before, Patrick enjoyed support (spiritual and monetary) from parent groups and education-interested donor Charles Butt. But Tinderholt was bolstered bigtime by Empower Texans and the associated Accountability First PAC. Hers wasn’t a seat that came up often in talks about moderate Republicans flipping to the tea party, but if the night’s results don’t change, that’s just how it’ll go. –Patrick Michels
7:27 p.m.: Although it’s still very early, Dan Patrick has come out of the gate in the lt. governor’s race looking strong. In early voting, he’s taking 46 percent to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s 26 percent. The other two challengers, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, trail with 14 percent each. If anyone gets more than 50 percent at the end of the night they win without a runoff. —Forrest Wilder
6:59 p.m.: Welcome to The Texas Observer live blog. Dateline Houston will take lead on the following races:
U.S. Senate: The incumbent, John Cornyn is a shoo-in for the Republican nomination, so all the action is on the Democratic side. Perennial candidate and lunar opportunist (read our interview here) Kesha Rogers led a field of five in a recent poll, but Wendy Davis’s pick, David Alameel, is hot on her heels. Can Rogers and her “Impeach Obama” platform avoid a runoff?
Agriculture Commissioner: With incumbent Todd Staples among the horde vying for lieutenant governor, the ag commissioner race has officially gotten zany. Among Republicans, J. Allen Carnes has endorsements from most major agricultural groups while Sid Miller has… Ted Nugent. Like seriously, that’s his treasurer. Democrats get to choose among Jim Hogan, who has barely campaigned, Hugh Fitzsimons, who’s inexperienced in politics but confident on the issues, and Kinky Friedman, running on a platform of legalizing marijuana. Friedman couldn’t do anything to legalize weed as ag commissioner, but isn’t it fun to talk about?
Land Commissioner: John Cook, former mayor of El Paso, is running unopposed for the Democratic spot, but on the Republican side, George P. Bush will launch his political career tonight with a near-certain trouncing of David Watts, who thinks the United Nations wants to control the Alamo.
House District 121: Incumbent and current House Speaker Joe Straus has held down this San Antonio seat since 2005 despite repeated accusations of moderation. Straus’s mud-slinging challenger from 2012, tea partier Matt Beebe, is back for more. Will he get better than last run’s 37 percent?
House District 6: No Dems are running, but incumbent Matt Schaefer of Tyler is among the gaggle of RINO-crying freshmen who find themselves challenged this year by establishment types—in this case, Skip Ogle, an experienced lobbyist.
House District 75: El Paso Democrat Mary González got a lot of press in 2012 for being Texas’ first openly LGBTQ female legislator, but she earned endorsements this year by expanding wastewater services in her district. She also massively outraised her primary opponent, former school board member Rey Sepulveda. Expect a blowout.
Texas’s two highest courts—the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court—have multiple seats in play. Most watchers are hoping the incumbents hang in there because some of the challengers are even more extreme.
Dateline Houston will also watch two races closer to home: the 311th Family District Court, whose Judge Denise Pratt has racked up multiple criminal complaints (read about them here) and that of the Harris County Republican Party Chairman. Jared Woodfill has been chair for 12 years, but this cycle powerful people and their big money are backing his three-time challenger, Paul Simpson. Simpson wants to expand the party base by easing off social issues, so his run is being watched like a Republican Punxsutawney Phil. If he gets scared back into his hole, will we have six more years of the tea party? —Emily DePrang
6:53 p.m.: What I’ll be watching:
Rematch Part Deux for the Big Bend
Texas’ Congressional District 23 is vast, running from San Antonio to El Paso. It’s also one of the only congressional districts in the nation that can swing either Republican or Democratic, so it garners a lot of money and attention nationally. Republican lawyer Francisco “Quico” Canseco is up against former CIA agent Will Hurd in the Republican primary. It’s a rematch after the 2010 runoff when Canseco beat Hurd, then went on to wrest CD-23 away from Democrat Ciro Rodriguez. He held the seat for one term before losing to Democrat Pete Gallego in one of the most expensive congressional races of 2012.
Back in 2010, Canseco, a lawyer and banker, was the Tea Party darling but now it looks like Hurd is the Tea Party’s candidate of choice. In a recent debate held by the San Antonio Tea Party, Hurd and another Republican candidate for District 23 Richard Lowry, a physician, who’s running a distant third talked about their goals such as abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and Obamacare. (Canseco was a no-show due to a family matter). Both Hurd and Canseco have roughly the same amount of cash on hand for their campaigns—just over $300,000. The San Antonio Express-News has endorsed Hurd. I won’t be surprised to see another runoff between Hurd and Canseco. Gallego is running unchallenged in the Democratic Primary.
El Paso’s District 76
Democrat Norma Chavez served as representative of El Paso’s House District 76 for seven terms before being unseated by Naomi Gonzalez in 2010. Chavez, who likes to ride a Harley and wear her black leather jacket to the Capitol, has a feisty reputation. During her time in the Legislature she had her share of verbal spars with other El Paso lawmakers and was called out for allowing lobbyists to pay for her college graduation celebration. Gonzalez, an attorney, has had her own troubles, too. In March 2013, during the legislative session, she was charged with a DWI after driving into another vehicle that rammed into a cyclist.
First time candidate Cesar Blanco is also running in the Democratic-leaning district that includes a portion of the Fort Bliss Army base, central El Paso and part of the lower valley. Blanco is a Navy veteran and former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine). Expect a run-off in this race. There are no Republicans running in this district.
Senate District 10
Senate District 10 might be the only Senate seat to switch party hands this year, so it’s been the focus of a lot of attention. It was also the source of a lot of handwringing among Dems—Wendy Davis was able to pull off a narrow underdog win in the Tarrant County district in 2012, but Republicans gunned for SD-10 during redistricting, tilting the district further to the right.
A Republican win in SD-10 would give Republicans 20 seats in the Texas Senate, one seat away from gaining a supermajority under the senate’s two-thirds rule, which requires 21 votes to consider bills. There are five candidates in the GOP primary, making a runoff a near certainty. But the Republican frontrunner in the district could be Konnie Burton, a tea party activist who was the first to announce her run. She’s received the backing of a large number of conservative activists, and seems likely to be in the runoff.
Former state Rep. Mark Shelton, who lost to Davis in a close and expensive 2012 race, is also running, and could end up in the primary with Burton. Shelton lost to Davis 51-49, and has been planning a rematch ever since. Next to Burton, Shelton represents a more establishment wing of the GOP. There’s also chiropractor Jon Schweitzer, former Colleyville City Councilman Mark Skinner and Arlington School Board Trustee Tony Pompa running in the GOP primary.
The Democrats have two candidates in the primary: energy executive Mike Martinez, and Libby Willis, who bills herself as a neighborhood association leader. Check out more from Chris Hooks on the Senate District 10 race. —Melissa Del Bosque\n
6:25 p.m.: What I’ll be watching:
Can Debra Medina Win This Thing?
The most fascinating returns tonight may well be in the Republican primary for Texas comptroller.
The comptroller essentially serves as the state’s accountant. That may sound awfully dull to all us non-accountants, but some of the most entertaining and influential Texas politicians have served as comptroller. At the start of each legislative session, the comptroller provides the Legislature with a revenue estimate and after the session, must certify that the budget balances. So, in the right hands, the comptroller’s office can exert tremendous influence over how much money the state can spend. And past comptrollers like Bob Bullock and Carole Keeton Strayhorn used that power to advance their agendas and proved royal pains in the ass for the governor and the Legislature.
So comptroller could prove the perfect perch from which Debra Medina could cause serious problems for Greg Abbott (or Wendy Davis) and whoever wins the lieutenant governor’s race.
Medina, you’ll recall, is the tea party favorite from Wharton who ran a rogue campaign for governor in 2010 and found surprising success in the GOP primary. In fact, Medina was looking like a serious threat to Rick Perry until an unfortunate run-in with Glenn Beck—in which she seemingly admitted to believing 9-11 was an inside job—sunk her candidacy.
This year, she’s running for comptroller against three Republicans, all of whom serve (or served) in the Lege.
Medina is a true believer, an outsider in Texas politics who espouses extremely limited government and protection of private property rights. She’s running an underdog campaign spurred by grassroots tea party support. If she were to become comptroller, it would certainly shake things up in Austin.
In the most recent Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll, Medina held a surprisingly large lead over her three opponents, with 39 percent.
Harvey Hilderbran stood in second, according to the poll, with 26 percent. A long-time state rep with a mostly undistinguished record in the Texas House, Hilderbran has chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax policy, to generally poor reviews.
State Sen. Glenn Hegar, the pride of Katy, was running right with Hilderbran, according to the Trib/UT poll. Hegar has recently spent his time in the Texas Senate establishing his pro-life cred. He was the Senate sponsor of House Bill 2, the strict anti-abortion bill that passed last summer, and he’s won the endorsement of Texas Right to Life. You might wonder what that has to do with the duties of the comptroller—after all, Susan Combs is widely believed to be pro-choice and we’ve all survived nonetheless—but, hey, it’s a GOP primary, so abortion is always relevant.
Former state Rep. Raul Torres is the only actual accountant in the race, so naturally, he’s polling a distant fourth.
If the Trib/UT poll is to be believed, Medina has an outside shot at reaching 50 percent tonight and winning the nomination outright without a runoff.
If there is a runoff, Hilderbran and Hegar are jockeying to reach it with Medina. A runoff between one of them and Medina would be a fascinating race.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, the primary. I’ll be keeping an eye on comptroller results tonight and regularly posting returns and analysis. —Dave Mann
5:57 p.m.: What I’ll be watching:
Bored of Education? Not Tonight!
There comes a point in any campaign—any fake one on a TV show, at least—when the candidate, still behind in the polls as Election Day approaches, is advised it’s time to really stick it to their challenger. Usually there’s some back-and-forth—”I promised I wouldn’t go negative!” “Lose this election, and you will know the meaning of the word negative!”—before the candidate says “screw it,” takes the tobacco company’s money and buys an ad exposing their challenger as a philandering puppy abandoner.
That moment came early for Lady Theresa Thombs.
At a Fort Worth candidate forum in January, Thombs needed just 15 second to call incumbent State Board of Education member Pat Hardy “a lifelong Democrat.” A mere 40 seconds in, she roasted her fellow challenger Eric Mahroum:\n
What would you say if you had someone who had to be forced by the attorney general’s office to pay child support to support their child? Do you think they would be a good candidate for the State Board of Education?
[boos from the crowd]\nWell, I have a Republican opponent who has two children by two different mothers and owes child support.
When you look at his resumé, the bachelor’s degree that he says he has, when you call the university, they don’t have any record of it.
These are more verifiable issues. And the most… you know, his real experience in management is Chuck E. Cheese.
\nThe State Board of Education races may be relatively obscure, but the last few years have proven how easily an outspoken voice can hijack the board. And down-ballot is where it can help the most to have a memorable name (and title) like Lady Theresa Thombs.
A board of education lineup with Lady Thombs would make the Don McLeroy days look like a Victorian salon. Thombs remains a long shot, and the flavor of her campaign didn’t endear her to all the tea party voters she’s appealing to.
Hardy, a more moderate voice on the board in a time of relative moderation, has taken fire from the right wing, particularly for refusing to demand the summary execution of anyone associated with CSCOPE. She’s a 20-year veteran of the board, and neither Mahroum nor Thombs seemed too clear during the campaign on the specifics of what the board does.
Two more state board races tonight will be worth watching, one in either party. In East Texas, the longtime, and very conservative, board member David Bradley is facing Rita Ashley, the same challenger he beat in 2012, by a 58-42 margin. Ashley is a former teacher and a former district director for newly retired Sen. Tommy Williams, and has support from the state’s biggest teachers groups and grocer-donor Charles Butt.
The last is in Dallas, where Democrat Mavis Knight’s open seat will probably go to either Erika Beltran, Dallas ISD administrator Andrea Hilburn or math teacher Denise Russell. Beltran, a former teacher, has been a prominent school reform advocate in Dallas, and got money in this race from the state Democratic Party as well as Texans for Education Reform, a new group that shares two-thirds of its name, and a few board members, with Texans for Lawsuit Reform. —Patrick Michels
4:49 p.m.: What I’ll be watching tonight:
David Dewhurst vs. The World
Top of any list for consequential outcomes tonight is the lieutenant governor’s race, which features incumbent David Dewhurst fending off three credible challengers. From the get-go, I’ve thought this would come down to Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst in a run-off. We shall see if I’m proved a fool tonight. Dewhurst has the money, the power of incumbency, the Establishment backing and he’s run far enough to the right to at least earn some credit with the right wing that controls the Texas GOP primaries.
His vulnerability, though, can be summed up in two words: Ted Cruz. Dewhurst was humiliated by Cruz in the drawn-out U.S. Senate primary last year. He showed his weakness to a tough, “authentic” conservative challenger, so it’s no wonder that he drew three men. To my mind, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson haven’t been able to distinguish themselves enough to outflank Dan Patrick. Neither Patterson nor Staples have been able to change the fundamental dichotomy in this race—Establishment vs. tea party—and that only means there’s space for two.
The dream scenario for either man (Dewhurst especially) would be to get over 50 percent and avoid a runoff. The nominee could then move immediately into general election mode against presumptive Democratic nominee Leticia Van de Putte. A run-off is more likely though with both Staples and Patterson likely to poll well into the double digits.
A Conservative Senate or a Super-Conservative Senate?
As Chris Hooks and I wrote on Friday, the Texas Senate is likely to be even more conservative when the 2015 legislative session kicks off. But just how much so will rest partially on the outcome of several races tonight.
The big one is Senate District 10, Wendy Davis’ Fort Worth district, which leans Republican. On the GOP side, there are five contenders; two Democrats are facing off for the nomination. The Republicans are likely to head into a run-off. The front-runners are Mark Shelton, a pediatrician and former state rep who lost to Wendy Davis in 2012. While Shelton is certainly conservative, he’s a rather dull one and lost a lot of goodwill when Davis defeated him. However, it’s thought that he would be a better general election candidate in what amounts to a swing district. The other Republican frontrunner, Konni Burton, is a stalwart tea partier associated with the rather extreme Northeast Tarrant Tea Party. Burton’s been endorsed by Ted Cruz (as her website makes very, very clear) and is closely allied with the far-right troublemakers in the Legislature, like state Rep. Jonathan Stickland.
I’ll also be watching senate districts where a Republican is bound to win in November and the contest tonight comes down to what type of Republican.
I’ll watch Senate District 25 (San Antonio, New Braunfels) to see if “Dr. Donna” (aka Sen. Donna Campbell) can hang on against moderate businessman Mike Novak and famous homophobe Elisa Chan. Campbell was one of the big tea-party success stories (electorally at least) of the last few years.
And we’ll see if wealthy ideologue Don Huffines can knock off Sen. John Carona, who is what passes for a moderate (though kinda shady) Texas Republican.
The worse-case scenario for Democrats is a strong challenger in SD 10 and turnover in the Republican districts that pulls the Senate to the right. Oh, and if Dan Patrick is the lieutenant governor nominee after tonight, start reading Revelation because the End is Nigh.
Who Will Be the Has-Beens and the Never-Wases?
This is the first time since 1990 that Rick Perry isn’t on the ballot. His absence has set off a game of musical chairs for Texas Republicans. (I’m assuming the theme music here is “Wango Tango.”) At the end of the night, quite a few Republicans will find themselves without a job—and possibly even a political future. Who will we be saying goodbye to tonight? Will Jerry Patterson ride off into the sunset, his six-shooter silhouetted against the western sky? Will we ever hear from Steve Stockman again? (Pirate radio doesn’t count.) If they lose, will anyone remember Dan Branch, Ken Paxton, Barry Smitherman, Eric Opiela, Sid Miller or even Lady Theresa Thombs? —Forrest Wilder
4:30 p.m.: Electoral primaries challenge everyone. Candidates jostle for overlapping political territory. (Can you win Land Commissioner by opposing Obamacare? Let’s find out!) Endorsers want to pick the best face for their cause, but sometimes that’s not who can win the general. And even diligent voters can struggle to make informed decisions in down-ballot races.
We can’t help with the first two, but for the voter, The Texas Observer rides to the rescue. Tonight, our team will stake out dozens of races and tell you both results as they come in and what those results mean.
Want to follow our reporters on Twitter? Dave Mann (@contrariandave), Patrick Michels (@patrickmichels), Emily DePrang (@deprangy), Melissa del Bosque (@melissalalinea) and Forrest Wilder (@forrest4trees) will be holding things down at Observer HQ. Christopher Hooks (@cd_hooks) will be in Houston.