The most expensive race for a Texas House seat so far this year is not located within a metropolitan area, but a rural one whose largest city’s population is less than 20,000.
Over $1 million has been raised by the two remaining candidates — Cisco businessman, Jon Francis and Graford veterinarian, Glenn Rogers — for House District 60.
Francis has received all of his money, over $800,000 according to the latest Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) filings, from individuals, two of which have contributed the lion’s share of the total: his in-laws, conservative mega-donors Farris and JoAnn Wilks. In all, nearly 600 individuals have contributed to Francis’ campaign.
Rogers, meanwhile, has been in the race since mid-2019 and has hauled in about $260,000 in contributions, according to TEC filings. Notably, he received a $30,000 donation from Texas Farm Bureau’s Ag Fund.
Francis and Rogers are vying to replace retiring Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury). Lang is in a tight race for Hood County Commissioner against Jack Wilson, who felled the White Settlement church shooter before a massacre could be carried out.
The pair has exchanged haymakers early and often during the March primary and subsequent runoff.
Francis is a self-avowed grassroots conservative whose bonafides include advisory roles with organizations like Live Action and PragerU, and an endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Rogers has fashioned himself a more moderate candidate and has strongly aligned with, being a rancher himself, the agricultural community.
The veterinarian has accused Francis of trying to buy the seat and criticized his political alignment with the conservative activist organization, Empower Texans. Their political arm, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, has endorsed Francis.
This boiled over recently with the mistakenly released recording in which two Empower Texans staffers, while stating their vehement disagreement with Governor Abbott’s handling of COVID-19, used a throng of expletives and made insulting remarks about the governor.
In criticizing Francis’ response to the tape, Rogers blasted, “This is the lowest of lows. Jon Francis and the Wilks Family see anyone who does not buy their hateful, divisive brand of ‘conservatism’ as a threat that must be silenced by any means. This kind of behavior is not acceptable for anyone, especially someone who wants to be our representative.”
Francis’ statement, meanwhile, read, “[The Empower Texans staffers’] remarks were absolutely unacceptable. The comments in no way reflect my values and convictions.”
Turning his volley at Rogers, Francis then added, “Unlike my opponent, I have no problem holding those around me accountable, even if it means calling out friends and supporters who do wrong. Time and time again my opponent has ignored the reprehensible behavior, lies and liberal positions of his supporters and the lobbyists bankrolling his campaign.”
Throughout the campaign, Francis has repeatedly barbed Rogers for adopting positions such as opposing constitutional carry and supporting taxpayer-funded lobbying, both of which would place Rogers at odds with the Republican Party of Texas Platform.
Rogers, after first firmly stating his opposition to a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, later stated that he’s since modified his position after speaking with former Governor Rick Perry.
While the back and forth on social media between the candidates has accelerated, in-person exchanges have come to a halt. During the primary, the candidates shared a stage for a few forums.
However, during the home stretch of the primary, Rogers was notably absent from forums with other candidates.
In one instance, Eastland Republican Party Chair Robin Hayes, told The Texan Rogers harangued her on the phone over the moderator of a primary forum whom he feared was biased.
The planned moderator had contributed to Texas Scorecard, the media arm of Empower Texans. Hayes stated that the questions were already written and from attendees, not the moderator.
“Since then,” Hayes added, “[Rogers] hasn’t come to anything unless he puts it on.”
That absence has continued during the runoff.
At a recent Eastland County GOP runoff forum, to which Rogers was invited but did not attend, an audience member asked about his absence. Hayes then elaborated on that exchange and troubles getting Rogers to attend events.
Rogers did not reply to The Texan’s request for comment on this assertion.
Top-level endorsements have also played a role in this race.
Rogers boasts support from former Governor Rick Perry, Congressman Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), the Texas Farm Bureau Ag Fund, Jack Wilson, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
According to his campaign website, Rogers also has the endorsement of each county sheriff in the district.
Francis has support from Sen. Ted Cruz, Attorney General Ken Paxton, State Senators Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, and Rep. Mike Lang.
Some organizations supporting Francis are Gun Owners of America, Texas Values Action, and Young Conservatives of Texas.
The two other GOP primary candidates who did not make the runoff, Kellye SoRelle and Christopher Perricone, have each endorsed Francis.
Both candidates espouse their commitment to the pro-life cause, but each have been endorsed by different pro-life groups.
The struggle between Texas Right to Life (TRTL) and Texas Alliance for Life (TAL) has created a dividing line among Republicans, with the former accusing the latter of being too soft on the issue and the latter accusing the former of being too hard-lined.
In this race, TRTL endorsed Francis and TAL endorsed Rogers.
With less than three weeks remaining until the runoff election, the Francis campaign told The Texan their focus has been on the one-on-one conversations between voters and the candidate. During the lockdown, they made over 50,000 phone calls to Republican voters.
Early on in the campaign, Francis distributed his personal cell number on campaign literature and during the height of the lockdown, says he received 50 to 100 calls from voters per day.
Many candidates across Texas experienced wariness about returning to campaigning-as-usual, namely block walking. But the Francis campaign said that voters were happy to see and speak with people other than those they’d been locked-in with.
And due to the depreciated voter turnout in runoffs, each campaign has their targeted voters they must drive to the polls — which makes consistent contact with those voters all-the-more important.
Glenn Rogers did not reply to The Texan’s request for comment.
Francis finished narrowly ahead of Rogers in the primary by just over two percent. The winner should have the luxury of a leisurely walk to the finish line through the general in the overwhelmingly Republican district.
The runoff election will take place on July 14 and early voting begins next Monday, June 29.
See where the candidates stand on their top issues, here.
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.
Brad Johnson is 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 watching and quoting Monty Python productions.