Above: Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) on the House floor.
Julie McCarty—mother, Christian and First Citizen of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party (NETTP)—is not a woman who suffers fools gladly, and state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) should have known that. McCarty’s grassroots warriors are some of the fiercest in the state, and some of the most right-wing. Where other tea party groups in the state have languished in the last few years, their event calendars barren and Facebook pages un-raged upon, NETTP has kept its fervor and ideological purity intact in a way that would be the envy of a frontline Soviet army battalion.
Some of the most fearsome—and marginalized—conservative fire-breathers in the Texas House bear the NETTP stamp of approval, including the congenitally hapless Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford). But for a while, McCarty had a champion of her own in Austin. Capriglione, elected in 2012 thanks in part to heavy support from NETTP, unseated incumbent GOPer Vicki Truitt, a member of the hated Republican establishment. He was a champion and warrior for a very particular kind of conservative principle—in his first term, he pushed hard for the establishment of a Texas gold bullion depository. But more than that, he was considered to be an up-and-comer, a possible future leader of the conservative revolutionary vanguard.
But in a tale as old as time, Capriglione, like Truitt before him, has gone soft, sallying forth hand in hand with the powers that be. The fall from grace began in December, at a panel of Metroplex state reps convened by NETTP. At the event, Capriglione announced a deal with the devil—he’d be voting for Joe Straus for House Speaker. For years, the right in Texas has waged a war to unseat Straus. This year, their great challenger in the speaker’s race was Scott Turner, former NFL player and tea party hero. But Turner, Capriglione said, couldn’t win—yes, he was a nice guy, but perhaps, Capriglione suggested, not a man of great substance.
It was as if Capriglione had declared himself a member of the Islamic State.
He had failed the most important litmus test given by the people who elected him: blind opposition to Straus. In a little under two years, he had gone from a promising rabble-rouser to one of the tea party’s most hated enemies.
And it didn’t matter that Capriglione’s change of heart was shrewd, and came at little cost. In February, he won juicy appointments to powerful committees, including the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, where he could make things happen for his entire district—not just his most activist constituents. And voting for Straus didn’t force Capriglione to sacrifice his other conservative policy positions. The tea party would eventually forgive him, right?
Nope. In May, McCarty saw a post she liked on Capriglione’s Facebook page, about the Bibles kept in every House desk. She tried to comment on it, but soon realized he had blocked her from doing so. This disrespect would not stand. The man whom McCarty had invited to speak at her church, who once consulted with her day and night, had banned her on social media, she wrote in an emotional dispatch to her followers.
The next step was clear: Capriglione, like Truitt before him, would need to be replaced. “As much as I dread having to replace him, as much as I hoped this would turn around, as much as we have bigger fish to fry in other districts,” McCarty wrote, “how can I justify NOT working for someone who WILL represent me?”
Among the names posited for possible primary challengers by the adjuncts of the anti-Straus coalition: Julie McCarty. As Texas rolls downhill to another backbiting, fire-starting Republican primary season, never let anyone tell you that politics in our state is not about the issues.