February 20, 2020

Establishment Not in Sync in Primary that's Shaping Up
as Proxy Fight Between Governor and Senate Tax Man

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Gina Calanni (D-Inc)
House District 132
30 Day Report: NA
Total Donations: $90,793
Total Spending: $42,041
Campaign Loans: $0
Cash Dec 31: $70,770
Angelica Garcia (R)
House District 132
30 Day Report: $11,595
Total Donations: $39,640
Total Spending: $40,558
Campaign Loans: $0
Cash Jan 23: $3,501
Mike Schofield (R)
House District 132
30 Day Report: $3,200
Total Donations: $30,600
Total Spending: $53,545
Campaign Loans: $0
Cash Jan 23: $129,715
Jon Rosenthal (D-Inc)
House District 135
30 Day Report: NA
Total Donations: $80,409
Total Spending: $79,312
Campaign Loans: $0
Cash Dec 31: $41,320
Justin Ray (R)
House District 135
30 Day Report: $6,400
Total Donations: $94,827
Total Spending: $51,802
Campaign Loans: $0
Cash on Hand: $44,229
Merrilee Beazley (R)
House District 135
30 Day Report: $0
Total Donations: $0
Total Spending: $12,586
Campaign Loans: $0
Cash on Hand: $0

Source: Texas Ethics




A Texas Senate Republican who's led the charge for property tax relief in Austin has turned against Governor Greg Abbott in a GOP primary shootout in a state House race that could determine which party controls the west wing of the Capitol when lawmakers tackle redistricting in 2021.

As Abbott prepared to campaign for Katy Republican Angelica Garcia this week in House District 132, State Senator Paul Bettencourt of Houston pitched his support to Mike Schofield in the first-round fight for the seat that he held in the Houston area until falling victim to a blue wave at the ballot box in 2018.

The Republican governor is taking sides in four other primary bouts on the House battlefield with plans to stump for GOP House hopefuls Jake Ellzey of Midlothian, Jacey Jetton of Sugar Land, Manish Seth of Missouri City and Kronda Thimesch of Lewisville this week.

Ellzey is competing in an open race in a heavily Republican district south of the Dallas area where Ryan Pitts of Waxahachie is also running as the son of a former House Appropriations Committee chairman. The winner of a primary fight that pits Seth against Stafford Republican Tom Virippan can expect to be trounced in November by Democratic State Rep. Ron Reynolds of Missouri City in a district that's solid blue.

But Thimesch and Jetton are squaring off with primary foes in races that have the potential to swing the balance of power in the Legislature's lower chamber like the HD 32 could do this fall. Jetton has appeared to be the frontrunner as a former local party chair in a field that includes primary rivals Leonard Chan and Matt Morgan in a bid for a seat in Fort Bend County that GOP Rep. Rick Miller of Sugar Land isn't seeking again in 2020.

Carrollton Republican Nancy Cline, the school board president in the suburban swath of the Dallas area where she's based, is dueling Thimesch in round one for a shot at freshman Democratic State Rep. Michelle Beckley in November.

With Democrats in position to reclaim the House majority with a net gain of nine seats this fall, the Republicans have a chance to torpedo the minority party's hopes with wins in districts that had been safely Republican until going blue in 2018.

The GOP's two best bets for taking House seats back are in suburban Harris County where rookie Democratic Rep. Jon Rosenthal of Houston and Calanni will be on the defensive for the first time this year. Republican Justin Ray has appeared to be on track to be the nominee in House District 135 where Rosenthal unseated a veteran lawmaker for the GOP more than 15 months ago.

But Republicans have failed to unite behind either one of the candidates who are doing battle in the March 3 election for the right to challenge Calanni in the general election later this year.

What makes the GOP primary in HD 132 unique is the fact that the party establishment doesn't have a consensus candidate in the race.

Schofield - an attorney who served two terms in the lower chamber - has more support on the hard right than Garcia with the Texas Right to Life political action committee backing his comeback bid. Garcia in contrast has garnered an endorsement from the Texas Alliance for Life - a group that's supported relatively moderate Republicans like former House leader Joe Straus and allies on his leadership team during a 10-year stint in the leadership post that ended a year ago.

But the establishment has been uncharacteristically split in HD 132 where Schofield has the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC in his corner in a district where the Associated Republicans of Texas are backing Garcia. TLR and ART have been the two biggest organizational contributors by far in recent years to Republicans in battles with hard-line conservatives who've usually had the Texas Right to Life as an ally.

Abbott in the meantime has had mixed results in the recent past when he's intervened in primary fights for the House. The governor wasted substantial political capital two years ago when he tried and failed to defeat a couple of House Republicans who'd alienated him.

But Schofield is no longer an incumbent - and Abbott's vigorous support for Garcia has given her a significant lift as someone who's making her debut as a candidate in a district where more than a third of the residents are Hispanic and half are either Latino or African-American.

Schofield will be hoping that Bettencourt will offset Abbott in the HD 132 endorsement derby with just 12 days to go before a nominee emerges from the primary election.

A former Harris County tax assessor-collector who's been one of the Legislature's most effective members since he arrived in Austin four years ago, Bettencourt is known in activist circles as the Tax Man in his current role as the chairman of the Senate Property Tax Committee.

Bettencourt wields immense sway among conservatives who cheered his defiance during the 2019 regular session when he turned out to be the first and most outspoken critic of an ill-fated plan that Abbott endorsed in a move that would have raised the state sales tax as a way to foot the bill for property tax reductions.

Bettencourt's unwavering opposition to the tax swap that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen also supported gave other Republicans on both sides of the rotunda the cover they needed to turn thumbs down on the proposal.

While two-thirds of Schofield's former constituents live outside Bettencourt's district, the senator is well known across the state's largest county where he served as the chief tax official for 10 years and fortified his name recognition as a conservative radio commentator. It's conceivable that the Bettencourt endorsement that Schofield is touting could be as or more valuable than Abbott's support for the Garcia campaign in HD 132.


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