February 17, 2020

Consensus Conservative Contenders Emerging
in Primary Fights for Texas House and Congress

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

A half-dozen Republicans have the hard right firmly in their corners for primary fights in Texas House bids in districts where the battle lines have been clearly drawn between conservatives and establishment forces.

Four congressional hopefuls for the GOP in Texas are the designated conservatives as well in competitive races that will be on the primary ballot two weeks from now.

Most of the early action in U.S. House contests in Texas has been unfolding in open races in a state where a record number of incumbent Republicans aren't running again this year.

But the internal warfare within the state's ruling party has been minimal on the state House battlefield here in round one this year compared to previous primary elections in the past decade.

The outcome of the first vote in March and a runoff election in May could be a critical litmus test as a result for conservatives who'd made a concerted push to wrestle control of the GOP away from relatively moderate Republicans and their allies in the business sector.

House contenders Jeff Cason of Bedford and Jon Francis of Cisco are the only Republicans in competitive primaries who've run the table with endorsements from all of four major conservative groups that are taking sides in the opening round.

GOP hopefuls Carrie Isaac of San Marcos, Aaron Reitz of Austin and Cason are the only candidates who've been the consensus conservative choices up to now in bids for the lower chamber with primary opposition in districts that will be targets this fall.

A former city councilman who's taking aim at the suburban seat the GOP State Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford is giving up without a race for a new term in 2020, Cason has reaped endorsements from the political action committees for Empower Texans, Texas Right to Life, the Young Conservatives of Texas and the Texas Home School Coalition.

A primary showdown in an open contest in Houston-area district has been the only first-round fight for the House where conservatives have been divided. The GOP's Claver Kamau-Imani has the nod from the Texas Right to Life in the race for the House District 138 seat that Democrats are confident of picking up in November.

But the Texas Home School Coalition broke ranks the anti-abortion group when it recommended Lacey Hull in the Republican primary in HD 138 where she's been widely viewed as the top establishment candidate. Kamau-Imani, who supporters refer to as The Apostle, went ballistic on Twitter this past weekend to protest the support that Hull had received from Governor Greg Abbott and the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC.

All four organizations also have pitched their support behind Francis in an open race in a heavily-Republican district where he's had a massive funding advantage over a pair of primary foes as the son-in-law of tea party financier Farris Wilks. Graford Republican Glenn Rogers has appeared to pose the most significant threat to Francis in primary field that includes Christopher Perricone of Mineral Wells and Kellye SoRelle of Granbury in a district where Francis backers will hope the party establishment is split between the three.

Reitz and Isaac, who are competing for shots in November at freshmen Democratic State Reps. Vikki Goodwin of Austin and Erin Zwiener of Driftwood respectively, have garnered endorsements so far from the Texas Right to Life, the home school group and the YCT. The Texas Right to Life - the most conservative of two major anti-abortion groups in the Lone Star State - actually issued a duel endorsement in the district that Goodwin flipped in 2018 with votes of confidence for both Reitz and former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman.

Republicans Shelby Slawson of Stephenville and Bryan Slaton of Royse City have been endorsed by three of the four prominent organizations on the right here in bids for seats in the Capitol's west wing in districts where they're attempting to unseat GOP State Reps. J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville and Dan Flynn of Van respectively.

But the Texas Right to Life PAC is backing both Slaton and Dwayne "Doc" Collins in House District 2 where Flynn has been the state representative since 2003. Slawson in the meantime will be hoping that the support that she has on the hard right will have a mitigating effect on Stephenville Republican Cody Johnson's gargantuan war chest advantage as a House District 59 hopeful who's had 10 times more to spend with more than $1.1 million in personal loans that he'd made to his campaign heading into the final week of January.

Sheffield has been consistently ranked as one of the lower chamber's most moderate Republicans since he entered the House seven years ago. Flynn had been widely regarded as a staunch conservative before joining Joe Straus' leadership team when he was leading the House as the speaker.

While House Republicans like Flynn had been hammered on the hard right in re-election races as a consequence of associations with Straus, very few of the primary fights have been a referendum on current GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen the way they'd been on ties to his predecessor.

That's an intriguing dynamic when considering that Bonnen's first year in the leadership post ended in a political career-wrecking scandal that erupted after Empower Texans leader Michael Quinn Sullivan blew the whistle on a GOP primary targeting scheme. Bonnen initially tried to survive the furor that Sullivan ignited before pulling the plug last fall on his re-election race in his hometown district.

Lake Jackson Republican Rhonda Seth is the only one of five GOP candidates in the Bonnen replacement race to have an endorsement up to now from one of the four top conservative groups. Seth scored the Texas Right to Life PAC's support in round one in an open House District 25 race that also will feature Republicans Troy Brimage of Freeport, Ro'Vin Garrett of Angleton, Mitch Thames of Bay City and Cody Vasut of Angleton on the primary ballot early next month.

Three of the four conservative organizations in question are backing Republicans Chris Eckstrom of Wichita Falls, George Hindman of Pflugerville and Raul Reyes of Castroville in March primary fights for seats that congressional Republicans aren't seeking again in 2020.

Eckstrom is one of 15 candidates who are vying in the GOP primary election for the right to take veteran U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry's place in the Republican stronghold of Congressional District 13. Hindman faces 10 primary opponents in an open battle for the Central Texas district that Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Flores is relinquishing without a bid for a new term in 2020.

Reyes will be on the first-round ballot with eight other Republicans in a quest for the seat that U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is giving up in a district where the Democratic nominee will be running as the favorite this fall.

Republican Chris Putnam of Colleyville is the only primary challenger that has consensus support from conservatives in a solid red district where veteran U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth appears to be a prohibitive favorite.

GOP congressional candidates Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Kathaleen Wall of Houston have each landed endorsements from two of the four major conservative organizations in Texas in crowded primary fields in open races for seats that Democrats think they have good shots to win in November.

Van Duyne received an endorsement from President Donald Trump last week as a former suburban mayor who's one of five candidates competing in the GOP primary election on March 3 for the nomination in a district where Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant of Coppell won't be on the ballot again in 2020. Trump also threw his muscle behind Republican Wesley Hunt of Houston in one of two U.S. House districts that went blue in the last election cycle.

But conservatives have been conspicuously missing in primary battles that Republicans are waging in the districts where rookie Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston are in the midst of their first re-election races after wrestling seats from the GOP in 2018.


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