After a crowded five-way race to succeed former State Rep. Leighton Schubert (R–Caldwell), two candidates are now battling it out in the primary runoff election to represent the district in the legislature next year, with their endorsements showing highly contrasted pools of support.
Jill Wolfskill, a Bellville small business owner, and Ben Leman, former Grimes County Judge, recently met at a forum held by the Washington County GOP where a spotlight was placed on the endorsements touted by both candidates for House District 13, a seven county district located between Austin and Houston.
Wolfskill has earned the endorsements not only of conservative grassroots organizations like Texas Right to Life and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, but of all twelve members of the Texas Freedom Caucus, the only non-incumbent candidate statewide to have received the distinction.
Leman, on the other hand, is heavily relying on the support of establishment organizations like Associated Republicans of Texas, Texas Farm Bureau, and fake pro-life group Texas Alliance for Life.
“I don’t know about you, but Texas Farm Bureau doesn’t sound establishment to me,” said Leman in last night’s debate.
Yet the Farm Bureau is one of the most reliably establishment groups in the state, with a $1.4 million war chest spent heavily on liberal, establishment politicians in rural areas. Indeed, the organization even endorses Democrats for a number of offices.
As for Leman’s other major endorsement?
Despite its name, Associated Republicans of Texas is not affiliated with the Republican Party of Texas. Instead, the organization exists largely to give cover to allies of outgoing Speaker Joe Straus. Straus was the group’s largest donor in 2018.
During the March primary election, the group supported liberal Republicans like State Rep. Wayne Faircloth (Dickison) and pro-abortion State Rep. Sarah Davis (West University Place) despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s support of their conservative challengers. Additionally, the organization opposed both former State Reps. Stuart Spitzer and Steve Toth as they sought to return to the Texas Legislature, even though both had conservative records while in office.
Similarly, Texas Alliance for Life has reliably acted as a front group for establishment politicians to claim “pro-life” status despite their own dismal records and failure to act on life-saving legislation. Dr. Joe Pojman, the group’s head, testified against the ban on dismemberment abortion during the last legislative session.
“Texas Right to Life is not in good standing with all Christian organizations,” Leman stated, referencing an attack from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops in February that appeared to be driven by a lobby team rather than the bishops themselves. State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving), himself a Roman Catholic and supporter of Texas Right to Life, penned a letter afterward which characterized the attack as “purely politically motivated.”
Wolfskill, who has served as a crisis pregnancy counselor in Brenham, also unapologetically defended the oldest pro-life organization in Texas, offering the following rebuttal:
Texas Right to Life is absolutely front and center in fighting for the unborn. I have followed them for 25 years. They have been able to overturn partial-birth abortions; they are the ones who passed the sonogram bill; they are the ones that are defending and trying to protect the handicapped babies in the womb… they are absolutely leading edge. They are an example across the entire nation of how effective you can be legislatively.
During the forum, the issue of skyrocketing property taxes was not addressed despite reforms being recently supported by an overwhelming majority of Republicans in the primary election. Last week, however, a letter published in the Navasota Examiner by Mayor Bert Miller indicated that Leman had, at least off the record, confided with local officials that he would not support Abbott’s plan to cap property tax increases.
Wolfskill, in contrast, stated in a previous forum that she supports the plan and looks forward to working with Abbott to reform property taxes across the state.
In her closing arguments, Wolfskill took a shot at Schubert while promising her full commitment to the district, telling voters, “Unlike our former state representative, I’m not going to quit on you.”
Schubert, who was elected in a special election to replace now-State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham) in 2015, announced he would not seek re-election in December shortly after receiving Abbott’s endorsement and just days before the filing deadline. He then resigned the following month to take a job with Blinn College in Brenham.
Voters in HD 13 will head to the polls not once, but twice next month to elect their next state representative. The May 5 election will determine who will fill out the remainder of Schubert’s term immediately while the May 22 runoff election will likely determine who will serve the reliably Republican district when the legislature convenes in January.