The 2014 Texas primary election has just been completed with repercussions that are, according to credible reports, resonating as far as Washington DC. While most people were focusing heavily on the US Senate race in which John Cornyn was facing opposition due to his apparent caving on the recent debt ceiling vote, the truly important were the races further down the ballot.
Cornyn’s re-nomination was a foregone conclusion. His opponents were late to the race, not well organized or funded, and the majority had no public backing. The political advice groups, of which there are many in Texas, generally backed Cornyn when the backed anyone, probably because they preferred someone who could be a virtual certainty to be returned to office in November. A newcomer might have been a coin toss in the general election against a well funded Democrat opponent. Better to stick to the devil you know. Meanwhile, the reduced support purportedly has Cornyn rethinking his posture in the Senate, at least to a certain extent.
What most Texans had their eyes on was the race for Lt. Governor. It featured three candidates, all political veterans, taking on the multi-term incumbent David Dewhurst. Dewhurst, we might remember was defeated for a US Senate seat by dark horse Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz. Of these, the number one contender was state senator Dan Patrick; a local businessman and former television sports personality. (He is unrelated to the national sports broadcaster of the same name.)
Senator Patrick is a major owner in a local independent radio station, KSEV 700 AM, and has had his own radio talk show for many years. His radio exposure provided a springboard for his entry into the Senate when state property taxes spiked during the 2005-2006 real estate boom. Patrick organized a citizen bus caravan to testify on the need for changes in the property tax law before the legislature in Austin. After waiting all day the hearing was closed and no one was allowed to say a word. Patrick decided enough was enough and ran for the senate. He was swept into office, bulldozing all the competition with nearly 70% of the vote. Since then he has made a name for himself in the Texas Senate as both a gadfly and an effective legislative leader in the fields of abortion regulation, budget control, education, and taxes.
Senator Dan, as he likes to be called, has continually pressed on the issue of property taxes, which can run as high as 4% of assessed value in Texas, but has been unsuccessful in making much progress because Lt. Governor Dewhurst has been unwilling to advance the matter in the Senate, which agenda he controls. Patrick decided that it was time for him to take another step toward tax relief (and other matters) by moving into the position where he could control which issues come before the Senate, including those that he believes needs to be addressed. He also took exception to Dewhurst’s mismanagement of the summer 2013 special session in which Senator Wendy Davis engaged in a filibuster to temporarily delay a bill regulating abortion. Proper use of Senate procedure by the Lt. Governor could have terminated Davis’s action, but Dewhurst did not do so.
As the race progressed Patrick’s team expected that he would be able to engineer a runoff against Dewhurst. He expected Dewhurst to finish with somewhere around 40% of the vote, about 30% for himself and the remainder split between the other two candidates. When one of the two lower tier candidates found his chances looking dim he allied with a special PAC organized to oppose Patrick and began a campaign of negative ads. They were eventually joined in by all three of Patrick’s opponents to varying degrees. The ads centered on the discovery of an illegal alien who had purportedly been hired 30 years ago at a now defunct sports bar owned in part by Patrick. The complete facts indicated that the alien had been hired by a manager without Patrick’s knowledge, and that the alien had presented fake identification with his job application. As the negative ads aired Patrick’s stock soared. He ended up turning the tables on Dewhurst, finishing with 41% of the vote compared to Dewhurst’s 28%. This should result in Patrick taking the financial wind and other support out of Dewhurst’s sails, as those on the edge flock to the presumed winner.
Recent history shows that negative campaigning has not done well in Texas. Dewhurst went negative against Ted Cruz and lost. He went negative against Dan Patrick and came in a poor second. It is unlikely that he would succeed in a runoff by going negative, as several newspapers recommend. Unfortunately, sticking to the issues might be just as bad, as Patrick holds the high ground on that front at well. With extremely active Tea Party support he becomes the odds on favorite to be the next Lt. Governor of the state and then, as the Houston Chronicle said last year, if he is elected all bets will be off.
As the results rolled in it became apparent that the conservative vote was controlling the Republican primary throughout the state. Several Republican incumbents were replaced by more conservative, Tea Party backed candidates. It is now likely that the next legislative session will be the most conservative in Texas history. The back of the coalition that supported a “squish” Speaker in the House of Representatives may be broken as well. Finally, Conservatives also dominated the Attorney General’s and state commissioner’ races.
What was perhaps most fascinating was the runoff now pending in the Democrat primary for John Cornyn’s US Senate seat. One of the two remaining candidates is a LaRouche Democrat. She is calling for the impeachment of Barack Obama and promises to be a real flame thrower if she were to somehow replace Cornyn.
In the final analysis, this Texas primary proves two things. Firstly, the Tea Party is alive and well in that state. Secondly, leadership generally trumps inaction. David Dewhurst has generally been criticized as passive in running the Texas Senate. He has perhaps become too comfortable in his position and unwilling to rock the boat, even if it would bring positive results. Property taxes have been central to this, as Senator Patrick has pointed out repeatedly. His proposal is to cut the maximum allowed tax rate in half and replace the lost revenue through a slight increase in the state sales tax. He also wants to strictly limit the amount that assessments can increase from year to year. Texas has no income tax and has a constitutional bar to implementing one.
Lastly, if the Texas electoral trend is anything to go by, America may well be in for a major housecleaning in the next three years. It is already overdue.