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Departing Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and the Austin establishment are getting involved in several open-seat races across the state in an attempt to stop conservative candidates from winning.
The Texas House Leadership Fund, a PAC controlled by Straus and his team, normally sends funds to establishment incumbent lawmakers who assist in obstructing conservative efforts in the House. While the latest round of financial reports show the PAC continuing that practice, notably it also reveals leadership contributing to three candidates in open races: Clint Bedsole, Cody Harris, and Sam Harless.
Clint Bedsole, who is running in House District 106 for the open seat vacated by State Rep. Pat Fallon (R–Prosper), received a $12,500 in-kind donation from the fund in the form of campaign polling. Jared Patterson, Bedsole’s opponent in the race, was endorsed by conservative organizations like Texas Right to Life, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, and conservative lawmakers like US Sen. Ted Cruz and Fallon. Bedsole is counting on the support of establishment groups like the liberal Texas Association of Business.
House leadership’s support of Bedsole is even less surprising given the candidate’s support of high property taxes and praise for the obstructionists that worked against taxpayers during the last legislative session to prevent meaningful reform.
Cody Harris is one of three candidates vying for the House District 8, a seat vacated by State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana,) who announced his decision to leave the legislature the same morning as Straus. Harris is joined in the race by Dean of Navarro College Linda Timmerman and Corsicana businessman Thomas McNutt.
While both Timmerman and Harris have the support of Cook, it appears the establishment has determined that Harris is the most viable candidate against McNutt, who came close to nudging out Cook in 2016 and carries the support of a slate of conservative organizations as well as Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott.
House Leadership wrote a $25,000 check to Harris at the end of January, a sign they believe he will work with them to the obstruct the same conservative reforms Cook and his allies have killed in recent years.
Sam Harless, husband of former State Rep. Patricia Harless, is running in a three-way race for the seat she used to hold. She retired in 2016 and the seat was held for one term by State Rep. Kevin Roberts (R–Houston). Shortly after Roberts’ announcement that he intended to leave the legislature to run for Congress, Harless quickly entered the race and was followed by Gail Stanart, the wife of Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, and conservative attorney Kevin Fulton.
While Fulton has earned the support of Texas Right to Life and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Harless can be counted on to be friendly with the establishment, especially given his wife’s dismal record on taxpayer issues and cozy relationship with Democrats. After she announced her retirement from the legislature, Harless admitted that the only way she able to remain in office was due to Democrats voting in the Republican primary. The House Leadership Fund doled out $10,000 to his campaign in February, ahead of what is expected to be one of several runoff legislative races across Texas.
Sam Harless, who manages a car dealership he owns with his wife, made a name for himself in 2013 when he was sued for allegedly using a stun gun repeatedly on his employees.
While Straus will not be at the gavel when the legislature reconvenes in January 2019, the recent donations into open races illustrate the Austin establishment machine that propped him up remains active and is seeking to keep his governing coalition with the Democrats in place.