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May 17, 2020
Beauty Shop Revolutionary Could Have Eye on 2022
with Political Consultant with Wilks and Huffines Ties
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott may have created a monster in a frantic move that he'll never admit he regrets with the evisceration of an emergency order that poured rocket fuel into an overnight rise from obscurity to stardom for a Dallas hair salon operator who'd essentially told him to shove it.
Shelley Luther could come back to haunt the Republican governor as a potential challenger in the 2022 primary election based on the way she's been cashing in on her newfound fame without taking time to catch her breath since her release from jail 10 days ago.
Luther has enlisted an Austin-based political consultant who'd been the chief political advisor to a wealthy former state senator who's been Abbott's most prominent and vociferous critic during the COVID-19 crisis.
With GOP strategist Matt Langston as a new guide and publicist, Luther has been booking public appearances at opposite ends of the nation for the sake of raising money to share with people like herself who've run the risk of government retaliation for refusing to abide by restrictions that have been imposed during the pandemic.
Langston's emergence in Luther's camp could be a sign of a team effort in the making in light of his ties to Cisco fracking billionaire Farris Wilks as the campaign advisor for son-in-law Jon Francis in an open Texas House race this year. Francis paid Langston's firm Big Dog Strategies about $150,000 for direct mail in January and February before he claimed a spot in a primary runoff that will be settled in July.
Wilks has bankrolled the hard right in Texas - having contributed more campaign cash to candidates and committees than any other donor in the state on either side of the aisle in recent years. Wilks could ensure that Luther had an amply supply of funds to be competitive in a possible confrontation with Abbott or a campaign for Congress, the Legislature or another statewide office if she wanted to make the leap from hair design and makeup artistry to politics.
The prevailing sentiment inside the Austin beltway is that Langston client Don Huffines has been laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial bid in two years when Abbott would be on the ballot again if he decides to seek a third term.
A Dallas developer who'd unseated a longtime Senate Republican en route to a four-year stint in the Capitol's east wing, Huffines has been accusing Abbott of wrecking the Texas economy, killing jobs, closing churches and creating a new welfare state. Huffines had actually started taking shots at the governor shortly before the coronavirus outbreak amid assertions that Abbott had failed to live up to promises to put an end to voter fraud in the Lone Star State.
While Huffines had the luxury of funding his own campaigns with personal money, he had donations from Wilks and his wife for his re-election bid that fell short in 2018 when Democratic State Senator Nathan Johnson of Dallas unseated him with a boost from a blue wave and 54 percent of the vote.
Wilks contributed $20,000 to the former lawmaker's twin brother Phillip Huffines for a bid in 2018 for a separate seat that State Senator Angela Paxton of McKinney ended up winning as the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Wilks had tried without success to persuade Paxton to defer to Huffines in the open Senate contest that year.
Wilks and the other powers that be in Texas tea party circles could decide that Luther would have a better shot in a battle with Abbott or an open race for governor than Huffines or other staunch conservatives. But Wilks could find himself in another dilemma involving the Paxtons if the AG entered the governor's race in 2022 in the event that Abbott decided not to run again.
While Luther is a glorified con artist in the eyes of many Texans who'd supported the relatively cautious approach that Abbott had taken before she landed in the county clink, she has the kind of indisputable star quality that could make her a dangerous threat on the campaign trail if she ventured down that road. She's physically attractive, articulate, charismatic and knows how to fire up a crowd like she did last month when she ripped up a cease-and-desist from the county where officials had given her repeated chances to abide the emergency restrictions before apparently deciding that she'd become too much of a nuisance. She has experience on stages as a singer in a band that's performed at clubs in the suburbs on the north side of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It might be safe to assume that she could dance as well.
Huffines could be a mentor for Luther and help foot the bill for a political race - or she could be the face of his own campaign and stump for him in a fight for governor like she's planning to do this week for a business owner who'd followed her lead without the same results.
Luther is set to appear in Michigan on Monday on behalf of a barber who kept cutting hair with television news crews as an audience despite an order from Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer that had prohibited businesses like his from staying open as a public health safeguard. While Luther faced a $1,000 fine and spent two days in jail before the Texas Supreme Court cut her free, Owosso resident Karl Manke was punished in a much more severe fashion when the state yanked his license for failing to comply with standards that the most of the people in his profession had followed.
Luther can expect to generate some financial help for the unlicensed barber up north with a GoFundMe page that brought in a half-million dollars for her legal defense that was no longer needed after Abbott removed the threat of punishment from the order that she'd been violating in a way that she trumpeted on social media.
While the governor might wish that he could forget about Luther forever, that might not be an option now in light of the juggernaut orbit that she's own with a seasoned political strategist pointing the way.