Because of its sheer size of membership, the policy the Texas House passes is less scripted than its counterpart across the capitol rotunda. That makes every seat all the more important for the various factions jockeying for position in intra-GOP feuds.
For outside groups looking to gain intra-party allies or knock out adversaries in the state House, GOP primaries are often the battleground.
Two groups spent more than most in these proxy fights: the Associated Republicans of Texas (ART) and the Defend Texas Liberty PAC.
The former is run by John Nau, chair of the Texas Historical Commission, and the latter by former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford). Both spent well over half a million dollars on candidates that ended up in runoffs — with even more likely to have been spent between the May 16 filing deadline and the May 24 election.
With the stated goal of maintaining the Republican majority in the legislature, the Associated Republicans of Texas tends to support more moderate Republican candidates. Their record Tuesday night was six and three — the candidates who won being Reps. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station) and Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) along with Frederick Frazier, Ben Bumgarner, Jamee Jolly, and Mano DeAyala.
Meanwhile, Stickland and Defend Texas Liberty supported more conservative candidates in each of the House races they jumped into. Funded largely by well-known conservative donors Tim Dunn and the Wilks family, the PAC batted five hundred in House races. The candidates they contributed to who emerged victorious were Terri Leo Wilson, Carrie Isaac, Stan Kitzman, Nate Schatzline, and Mark Dorazio.
Diametrically opposed politically, the two groups went head-to-head in seven races. Defend Texas Liberty won four of those, while the Associated Republicans of Texas won three.
While not a PAC himself, state Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) can divvy out funding like a PAC — and he also went head-to-head with the Associated Republicans of Texas, winning at least four of his proxy matchups against the organization. The soon-to-be state senator took a subtle dig at the organization after Terri Leo Wilson, whom he endorsed, won the race to succeed him in House District 23. She beat ART-endorsed Patrick Gurski last Tuesday.
The most powerful figure in the Texas House, Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), has an explicit interest in the outcome of these races — with his speakership on the line when the body reconvenes in January. Currently, there appears to be little, if any, opposition to his return to the dais. But in the Texas House, a speakership is only as solid as the majority that supports it and any subtraction is unwanted.
While the speaker doesn’t have Middleton’s self-funding ability, his position is primed for fundraising prowess. Phelan donated at least $1 million to candidates in runoffs, with the bulk going to incumbents Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), Rogers, and Kacal. On Tuesday night, seven of the candidates he assisted won and three lost.
The speaker also gave nearly $180,000 to ART before the March 1 primary, a sizable chunk of its tota.
Another PAC that waded into these runoff fights was the Protect and Serve Texas PAC, which primarily supported Austin Police Officer Justin Berry in House District 19. It made public accusations against Berry’s opponent, Ellen Troxclair, for “call[ing] for the abolition of all first responder associations.” That claim of “abolition” is a stretch, but Troxclair does support the Texas GOP platform plank advocating the elimination of collective bargaining for public employees.
But they also sent out mailers attacking David Lowe, Klick’s primary opponent, for at one point owning the domain “findsomesex.com.” After it dropped, Lowe put out a statement saying that at a particular low point in his life, he was involved in domain speculation and this was among the domains he bought to flip.
Protect and Serve Texas PAC went three and two on the night, spending over $150,000 on candidates who went to runoffs based on the available campaign finance data.
Texans for Responsible Government is another third-party PAC that got involved in quite a few races. The candidates it contributed to went seven and four in the runoffs, spending at least $177,000. Their wins include Klick, Kacal, Stan Gerdes and Carl Tepper. The losses include Barron Casteel, Elisa Chan, Laura Hill, and Gurski.
One of the most common intra-GOP feuds is between the sparring pro-life groups: Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life.
The PACs for these two groups spent at least 100,000 in these contests. Right to Life won four and lost one, the loss being with Jeff Younger in HD 63. Alliance for Life won six and lost four, spending most of its money on in-kind donations to Klick and Rogers.
Moving toward the general, these groups will move away from fighting with each other to focusing on their specific candidates who have somewhat tight races. Two of those races likeliest to see money dumped into is Harris’ race in HD 52, a Republican-leaning district, and Jamee Jolly in HD 70, one of two dead even seats in partisan leaning ratings.
The struggle for position in the Texas House never ends, continuously serving as the most fertile of battlegrounds for the warring factions of the Texas GOP.
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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.