Elections 2022Statewide News‘Beto is Just So Bad’: Abbott Primary Opponents, Critics Back Incumbent They Had Hoped to Unseat

An Abbott-critical former state representative is ramping up campaign spending in support of the governor he hoped to unseat.
September 27, 2022
Former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) — known for political bomb-throwing in public as much as in the House chamber — did something at the beginning of September he isn’t known to do: he applauded Gov. Greg Abbott.

Since leaving the legislature, Stickland has remained busy consulting for grassroots conservative candidates who oppose the GOP establishment — and more importantly, is the main gateway to the Wilks and Dunn families’ political donations.

His political action committee Defend Texas Liberty has spent close to $8 million this year on campaign activities, playing largely in state House races but also contributing substantially to Don Huffines’ primary challenge to Abbott. And that’s just from July’s semiannual report.

In competitive House primaries, Stickland’s PAC batted .500 in this year’s runoff with five of its endorsed and financially-supported candidates winning the GOP nomination and five losing.

Since then, the PAC has released a steady stream of polling gauging GOP voters’ priority issues, a hypothetical 2024 presidential field, and generic party ballot tests. The group has also become increasingly involved in the race at the top of the ticket — the one they had hoped Huffines would still be in.

The Texan Tumbler

But when the dust settled, Abbott strolled to victory with two-thirds of the vote as a field of challengers divvied up the rest.

Stickland’s applause came after Abbott called for “the largest property tax cut ever in the history of Texas” by using “at least half” of the projected $27 billion tax revenue surplus to either buy down rates or replace most school property tax collections with state dollars. The governor has run with another issue important to conservatives — school choice — although the details have remained largely scant.

Defend Texas Liberty PAC has a six-figure television ad buy starting Tuesday hitting statewide Democratic candidates in the Dallas-Fort Worth media market, with Beto O’Rourke as the main feature. The video knocks O’Rourke on various issues, highlighting police defunding, children at drag shows, illegal immigration and the incomplete border wall, homeless encampments, and violent crime spikes.

The group has already commissioned 17 billboards across the state aimed at the Democrat.

“Mainly, Beto is just so bad,” Stickland told The Texan in an interview. “I believe in redemption. We have always tried to make politics not personal, and we hope to work with Abbott and his team if they get in line with conservative priorities.”

He said the most salient issue for the average voter is the border, but that the exposure of children to sexual topics and events is rapidly approaching the zenith.

And while the spotlight features O’Rourke, Stickland didn’t want to give the other Democrats short shrift.

“They’re just as scary as Beto,” he said of Mike Collier and Rochelle Garza, candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general. “They are actively pushing the exact same progressive leftist positions as Beto. These are raging leftists, there is no difference.”

Stickland said his group will spend seven figures during the general election race not only on the television ad and billboards, but also a direct voter contact ground game across the state focusing on suburbs.

While that total may be a small fraction of what Abbott himself spends on the race — intended to eclipse $100 million — it’s no drop in the bucket, especially for a faction that already spent so prolifically in the primary against Abbott and the many of the legislative candidates he backed. Huffines has also sparingly weighed in on the race.

After a false report by the Quorum Report which claimed “sources” said Huffines’ brother Phillip was preparing a write-in campaign for governor backed by a $2 million donation from the Wilks, Don Huffines disputed the claim: “Fake news. We look forward to helping secure Communist Bobby O’Rourke’s third loss.”

In a statement to The Texan on Monday, Huffines said, “Many Texans have asked me if I will endorse Greg Abbott this November. This assumes Abbott wants my endorsement. I have never been contacted by him or his team for anything.”

“This hasn’t stopped me from telling the truth about how Beto O’Rourke and all the other statewide Democrats are Socialists committed to destroying Texas’s values and culture. They must be defeated. We must elect Republicans at every level of government to get our beloved platform into law. This is our year and we will make it count.”

BlazeTV host and former gubernatorial candidate Chad Prather also said he will vote for Abbott in a statement to The Texan, adding, “He’s certainly done nothing to earn the vote but Beto is a disaster for Texas. My hope is for one more term with Abbott and then hopefully we can find a candidate that is truly for small government and the best interest of Texas citizens.”

The Rick Perry on this year’s GOP primary ballot — not the former governor — who finished fifth with a $0.004 cost-per-vote thanks to his uncanny name ID told The Texan, “I guess I’ll be pulling the lever for Abbott. I find many faults in everything he does…yet, Beto!”

Reached by phone, Allen West didn’t go as far as the others, telling The Texan, “I don’t know if you have someone to vote for as much as someone to vote against — and right now I don’t have someone to vote for.” West further lauded the governor’s decision to classify drug cartels as terrorists — “as I have been calling for him to do” — but pointed to issues like border security and a ban on child gender modification as areas that must be addressed.

But more than the others, Stickland and his donors are putting some skin in the game. Asked if his expenditures count as an endorsement of Abbott, Stickland said, “I personally will be voting for Greg Abbott.”

“We’ve exhibited quite an appetite to challenge the GOP establishment but there comes a time in the general when you have to pick the best option available,” he added.

Stickland maintains that he’s results-oriented. “I just want conservative policy wins.”

An O’Rourke governorship, even with a GOP-controlled state legislature, certainly would wash away most of the party-line hopes Republicans and conservatives have for next session — though legislative priorities vary greatly within the political right’s ranks.

“We’re not interested in buying access,” Stickland said of himself and the donors buttressing his operation. “We’re extending an olive branch and hope they work with us to pass conservative priorities.”

Whether the Abbott camp acknowledges the support, however explicit or tacit it is, they will likely be glad to see a seven-figure expenditure flow in on their side of the governor’s toughest election fight yet — even if it is from the crowd that threw the kitchen sink at him in the primary.

Stickland’s support will be noted, even if it is received the same as Huffines’ primary opposition: with public apathy from the incumbent.

Reflecting on his time in the legislature and a memento Abbott once sent him, Stickland said flatly, “No, I don’t expect a call from the governor any time soon.”

The Abbott campaign did not return a request for comment on this story.


Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.

Get “KB's Hot Take”

A free bi-weekly commentary on current events by Konni Burton.

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.