San Antonio Republican Lyle Larson is catching heat for being the only Republican to vote against a motion issuing arrest warrants for Democrats who have obstructed legislative business by hiding from the “call” of the chamber. Yet, “Liberal Lyle”—as Gov. Greg Abbott has called him—might be gearing up to do even more for the Democrats: running a third-party race that will give them control of the lieutenant governor’s office.
Earlier this summer, former mayoral candidate Bill King of Houston filed paperwork organizing the “Serve America Movement” Party that goes by the initials “SAM.” He and Larson have been outspoken opponents of the “two-party” system—and seem to harbor particular animus against Republicans. The SAM Party already has affiliates in other states, where it is known for taking socially liberal positions along with an appetite for corporatist big government.
Larson would be the perfect SAM candidate; he is consistently ranked as one of the most liberal Republicans in the state on both fiscal and social issues. He joined the Democrats recently in pushing for expanding government healthcare programs, and he regularly opposes conservative reforms.
A “SAM” Party run by Larson for statewide office would not get him elected, but it could peel the kind of Republican votes Larson tends to attract anyway—left-leaning Republicans who prefer liberal social policies and don’t mind corporate welfare. While they are at the fringe of the GOP, they could—in a tight race—give Democrats an edge.
Which brings us to the 2022 elections. Gov. Abbott already has his hands full with three primary challengers and a rumored independent challenge in the general from actor Matthew McConaughey. While no Democrat has announced, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke has been mentioned as a potential nominee. Suffice it to say, Larson and the SAM Party would go unnoticed in that contest.
On the other hand, Dan Patrick makes a tempting target for the Larson/SAM pool. He has tended to be one of the more outspoken politicians in defense of conservatives, and throughout 2021 has reliably delivered on conservative priorities in the Texas Senate. All things Larson despises.
A left-wing columnist for the San Antonio Express-News is giddy about Larson making such a run, writing recently that such an effort would be the ”worst scenario for Patrick.” They probably aren’t wrong.
The Democrats don’t have a candidate for lieutenant governor announced or even seriously sniffing around. Whomever they put forward is unlikely to be any better known than Lyle Larson.
But the power of brand names means Lyle Larson cannot win. No one knows who he is, and the vast majority of voters certainly will have no information about the SAM Party. Even if they confuse our lieutenant governor with the ESPN sportscaster, voters know what Republicans and Democrats are—or, at least, claim to be.
Just as Ross Perot’s independent challenge to George H.W. Bush in 1992 gave Bill Clinton the White House, so too could a Larson campaign give Democrats not only their first statewide win since 1994, but he could give them control of the second most powerful office in Texas.