March 19, 2020

Political Casualties

Coronavirus Has Dominos Falling Fast in Texas Political Arena
with Flow of Establishment Money in the State Capital Choked Off

MIKE HAILEY

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy could be high on the list of major potential losers in the war against the coronavirus vote against an emergency relief package costs him some support at the polls this fall in a Central Texas district that Democrats have a shot to flip.

The rookie Republican from Austin joined a handful of GOP colleagues from Texas in their opposition to the measure that all but 40 Republicans in the U.S. House supported after President Donald Trump endorsed the plan. But Roy is the only Texan who opposed the legislation in a targeted swing district where he's given Democrat Wendy Davis a potentially lethal weapon to use against him this fall when the worst public health crisis in more than a century could be the only issue that matters by the time the ballots are cast in November.

But Roy isn't the only Texan who could be a political victim of COVID-19 in a state that's been shutting down this week as residences become isolate chambers while businesses that are essential for basic survival operate with skeleton crews donning protective masks in some cases.

The coronavirus that's terrorizing the planet is starting to have a dramatic impact on the Texas political world beyond the actions that Congress has been taking in hopes of saving the economy from a replay of the Great Depression while keeping the death count from the disease to a minimum. The most notable early repercussion has been a stranglehold that COVID-19 is having on fundraising for the primary runoff elections that are currently set for the last week in May.

Texas House Republican hopeful Glenn Rogers and Democratic State Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston are prime cases in point as overtime contenders who've pulled the plug on fundraisers that had been scheduled at the Austin Club next week.

But Rogers could have more to lose from a moratorium on public gatherings with no end in sight as a candidate who's attempting to come from behind in OT in an open race in a district where he trailed GOP foe Jon Francis of Cisco by 2 points in the Super Tuesday vote two weeks ago.

Rogers - a Graford veterinarian who's the consensus establishment choice in House District 60 - desperately needs the money that he would have raised from the Austin lobby in the Capitol City this month for a runoff duel with an opponent who had almost three times more campaign cash for round one.

Francis, who led of field of three with 46 percent of the initial vote, has appeared to have an endless money supply as the son-in-law of the Texas hard right's biggest donor in fracking billionaire Farris Wilks.

Rogers probably won't have another an opportunity to pass the hat here in the heart of the Texas fundraising universe if Governor Greg Abbott chooses not to postpone the runoff election from May 26 to a later date on the calendar this summer. While Rogers and other runoff contenders could attempt to round up cash at private residences or other facilities, the odds for a resumption of any kind of public gathering in the next two months seem to be falling fast.

The Austin Club where the lion's share of fundraising events for legislative candidates are held has been ordered by the city of Austin to remain shut down until the first of May at least. That prompted the cancellation of fundraising that Rogers and Dutton had scheduled there on March 25 and March 26 respectively.

Dutton announced the decision to call off a fundraising event that had been set at the private downtown restaurant and watering hole about three blocks from the Capitol in an email to potential donors on Wednesday.

"My entire campaign is committed to not only the health and well-beingof the constituents of District 142, but to my friends and family of Austin, Texas," the longtime lawmaker said.

Dutton is attempting to stave off a challenge in round two from Houston City Council member Jerry Davis in a bid for a new term in the lower chamber where he's been a member for more than 35 years as the second-longest serving Democrat in the west wing of the statehouse.

But the 2020 election season had been surreal for Dutton before the unprecedented coronavirus disruption. Dutton probably wouldn't be in such a bind if not for the presence of a third Democrat in the House District 142 race who might have been a fraud.

Dutton led Davis by 20 points in the initial election with 45 percent of the vote. But Natasha Ruiz guaranteed a second round when she received 20 percent of the primary vote with nothing more than a name on the ballot in a district where Dutton and reporters have tried without success to verify if she really exists.

Richmond Republican Matt Morgan has yet to make a formal announcement on the fate of a fundraising that he'd had planned for next Thursday as well at the Austin Club. Morgan flirted with an outright victory on Super Tuesday in an open race for the House in a Houston-area swing district where he garnered 49.7 percent of the vote.

Morgan had been hoping that the cash that he'd round up from establishment interests here would help him weather an attempt by runoff foe Jacey Jetton to make up ground that he'd lost with runner-up finish in round one with 41 percent.

The candidates who've lost the opportunity to solicit money in the flesh can try to cut the losses with stepped-up fundraising on the Internet. But the votes that Roy and the other congressional Republicans from Texas cast against the COVID-19 rescue plan are set in stone and unretractable.

U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell and Randy Weber of Pearland echoed Roy's concerns about the legislation being assembled in a hasty fashion that had made it impossible for a thorough examination of the details and possible flaws. Roy, however, is the only member of that group who's running for re-election this year in a district that isn't solid red.

Mike Hailey's column appears on a regular basis in Capitol Inside

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

Mike Hailey presents state politics with a personal touch. He's the only Texas Capitol journalist who's been to the dark side and back - having worked for two major newspaper bureaus before signing on as press secretary for Bob Bullock - the most powerful and legendary political leader of his time in the state. Hailey's Comment, which is published in Capitol Inside on a regular basis, is a direct reflection of that experience.

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