When all indications pointed to a run for re-election, state Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) abruptly changed course. Instead, he announced his retirement. The catalyst for the about-face is state Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), whose determination to challenge Taylor in the primary prompted the senator to turn to greener pastures.
“I tried to tell him, I’m just going to go one more time, why don’t you wait, but he’s ready to go and wanting to spend a lot of money,” Taylor said at the time.
“I feel pretty confident I could win that, but it would take a lot of resources.”
Middleton, a two-term state representative who chairs the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, is president of Middleton Oil Company which he took over from his father. He unseated Rep. Wayne Faircloth in the 2018 GOP primary, outspending the incumbent by more than three to one.
Shortly after Taylor exited the race, Middleton made his run official for the solidly Republican seat. He was then endorsed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Donald Trump in short order.
“The top two issues in this race are stopping the Biden administration’s abuses and securing our border,” Middleton told The Texan in an interview.
He said the state must “finish Trump’s wall,” first and foremost. The state began construction of its barrier in December with $1 billion in dollars appropriated by the legislature. Much of that, Middleton said, must be used to buy easements — land-use agreements made with private property owners. He was among the authors of the border security appropriation bill.
Being an oil and gas company owner, Middleton pointed to Texas’ energy industry as a victim of Biden’s policies. Upon entering the White House, Joe Biden issued executive orders to nix the Keystone XL pipeline which would’ve provided another avenue for Canadian oil to reach Texas refineries, and banning renewal of any drilling leases on federal land.
“Biden is trying to eliminate the oil and gas industry, which has made us energy independent and pushed Texas into prosperity,” he said. “Texans have a right to make a living and feed their families and Biden’s policies are making that more difficult.”
One of the bills Middleton filed last session was aimed at nullifying within Texas any executive orders by the federal government that exceeds its authority.
During his time in the legislature, Middleton’s biggest issue has been banning taxpayer-funded lobbying. Both in 2019 and 2021, the legislation Middleton pushed in the House perished at the hands of Republicans.
Three years ago, an amendment tacked on by a Republican member that exempted all counties below 250,000 in population led Middleton to torpedo his own legislation after it had been altered nearly beyond recognition. Last year, Chairman Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) and 27 other Republicans, along with House Democrats, voted to postpone consideration of the bill, killing it for that session.
Middleton said that if elected, a bill to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying would be filed on day one.
“I run toward the toughest fights,” said Middleton, who has been rated in the top 10 most conservative House members in both of his legislative sessions.
Middleton has $1.3 million cash-on-hand, substantially more than any other candidate in the race.
But the other primary candidate with a sizable profile is Dr. Robin Armstrong, a Webster physician who has served as Texas’ Republican National Committeeman (RNC) for nine years.
He also was thrust into the limelight when he began successfully treating coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine. This resulted in an investigation by the Texas Medical Board (TMB) which all but accused Armstrong of spreading false information about hydroxychloroquine as a remedy for coronavirus. After nine months and $40,000 defending himself from the board’s threat to revoke his license, TMB backed off.
“We need a state senator that can champion conservative values in the body despite leadership, Austin insiders, and multi-millionaires,” Armstrong said in an interview with The Texan.
Even being an RNC committeeman, Armstrong views himself as the outsider candidate in the race having never held a publicly elected position before. With a national platform, Armstrong touts his contacts across the nation that he’ll use to not only advocate conservative legislation but steer into the progressive headwinds.
“We need a senator that will push back against the Democrat’s messaging,” he said, pointing to his medical background, adding, “The mechanism that the left will use to enslave us all is health care.”
After the firestorm stemming from his coronavirus treatment opinions, Armstrong says he’s “battle-hardened and battle-tested.”
“As an African American Republican, I’m uniquely able to combat the Democrat’s messaging,” Armstrong said, adding that he’s prepared to take the reins of the senate seat. Being a party official, the issues Armstrong says he will hold tightest reflect the Republican Party of Texas platform and legislative priorities.
“Progress was certainly made, and the Heartbeat Bill was a success, but it doesn’t go far enough,” he said. “We need to defund Planned Parenthood entirely and ensure no child is ever aborted.”
Where Middleton boasts the support of Donald Trump and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Armstrong has the support of Attorney General Ken Paxton and State Republican Executive Committee member Jill Glover who oversees the party’s legislative priorities effort.
There are two other candidates in the race: President of Latinos for Trump Bianca Gracia and President of the Houston Bay Area Economic Partnership Bob Mitchell. Neither candidate has come close to Armstrong financially, who is set to be vastly outspent by Middleton.
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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.