Kacal received 47 percent of the vote, while Ben Bius trailed with 42 percent and a third challenger, Joshua Hamm, received 11 percent.
Under the maps used in the previous decades, the boundaries of House District (HD) 12 included portions of several counties north of College Station — Brazos, Robertson, Falls, Limestone, and McLennan.
But under the new map that House lawmakers approved for the current election cycle last fall, only Robertson County and portions of Brazos County remain in HD 12. In place of the other counties, Washington, Grimes, Madison, and Walker counties were all added to the district.
In the primary election between Kacal, Bius, and Hamm, the incumbent carried the two counties that were previously included in his district as well as Madison County, but Bius carried the other counties, albeit with smaller margins than the counties Kacal carried.
Besides shifting new counties into Kacal’s district, the new boundaries have been advantageous to Bius for a few reasons.
With only 13 percent of Brazos County’s population in HD 12, the most populous county in the district is Walker County, which contains Huntsville, Bius’s hometown.
The other two counties in the new district — Grimes and Washington — were previously within the boundaries of House District 13, represented by outgoing Rep. Ben Leman (R-Anderson).
At the outset of the primary, Leman endorsed Bius, candidly stating his opposition to Kacal’s record in the legislature.
“Kyle Kacal’s moderate voting record does not match the conservative values of this district,” said Leman. “I am simply unable to support his voting record.”
In contrast, Leman said that “Bius will stand up and fight for the conservative values of our district at this critical time in history when our state and country are in a battle to preserve our way of life.”
Kacal’s voting record has been a central issue in the primary and runoff race in this election cycle — even what Bius attributes to his decision to run for office.
“In redistricting, I received a phone call saying, ‘We’ve got a new district, Ben. Would you take a look at it?’ So I did and I met various people in the district including Ben Leman, and I studied my current opponent’s voting record, and I asked, ‘Is this voting record really as bad as it appears to be?’ And everybody told me it’s that bad or worse,” Bius told The Texan.
“I went home to speak to my wife about it, and she said, ‘Ben, it looks like it’s your duty. You don’t run from a fight and we’ve got to have conservative representation.’”
Kacal has frequently been ranked among the moderate wing of Republicans in the Texas House in various scorecards and the legislative rankings conducted by Rice University fellow Mark P. Jones.
Most recently, after the special sessions ended last fall, Kacal was ranked by Jones as the third most liberal Republican in the Texas House.
“I quote Mark Twain, ‘Lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ You can make a scorecard read however you want based on amendments, bad amendments, the amendment to the amendment to the amendment — it’s a very interesting algorithm,” said Kacal at a candidate forum in February.
“They can put any of us in the top or any of us in the bottom,” said Kacal. “There are a number of Republican representatives that don’t see eye-to-eye with certain outside groups and influences from across this state, one out of West Texas that keys on certain rural reps.”
But apart from pointing to rankings, Bius has contrasted their positions within the GOP by highlighting a number of particular votes and statements from Kacal.
As one example, Bius pointed to the comments that Kacal made after Democrats broke quorum during the first special session last summer and fled to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to stop the passage of the GOP’s election reform bill.
“We need to have some communication and come up with a moderated deal that brings everybody to the table and makes sure they have a victory or two,” said Kacal in an interview with KBTX after the quorum break.
Bius said he was “appalled” when he heard Kacal’s remarks.
“When the Democrats abandon their post in the Texas House to try to engage in anarchy, I will not get on the phone with them and encourage them to stay away and try to make a better deal,” said Bius. “Nor should we negotiate or be more moderate with anarchists at all.”
“And then [Kacal] didn’t believe election integrity was important,” said Bius. “He undermined our attempted election integrity and tried to pass same-day voter registration.”
On August 26, 2021, while the House considered the election reform bill on the floor, Kacal voted in favor of an amendment that would allow a person to register to vote on the same day they vote. The amendment failed in a 42 to 78 decision.
Only two other Republicans supported the amendment, Reps. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) and Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), though Paddie indicated in the journal that he intended to vote against it.
Another policy difference that Bius has pointed out is Kacal’s support to expand Medicaid in Texas.
Last year, Kacal was one of nine Republicans who signed onto legislation authored by Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) to expand Medicaid in the Lone Star State, which has long been a top priority for Democrats.
“This district is not purple,” said Bius. “It’s not blue. The heart of Texas beats bright red.”
Though criticized for his voting record by Bius and Leman, Kacal received the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott, who touted the incumbent’s efforts to pass bail reform.
“Representative Kacal has a long record of fighting for conservative principles,” said Abbott. “When Trooper Damon Allen was tragically shot and killed, Representative Kacal worked tirelessly to reform the bail system. He was instrumental in passing the Damon Allen Act, which I was proud to sign into law.”
In addition to Abbott, Kacal has the backing of a number of groups and organizations that have contributed to his campaign, including the Texas Farm Bureau Agfund, the Texas Sands PAC, the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC, the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, the Charles Butt Public Education PAC, and the Texas Association of Realtors PAC.
Other notable endorsements that Bius have received include one from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Joshua Hamm.
Kacal’s campaign did not respond to a request for an interview at the time of publication.
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Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.