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Another open Metroplex house district, and another race pitting a candidate boasting support from the House Speaker’ cheering squad against a candidate with conservative credentials.

Newly redrawn House District 115 in Dallas County includes part of Coppell, Irving, Farmers Branch, and Carrollton. As Rep. Jim Jackson of Carrollton has indicated that he will not be running for reelection, two potential replacements have risen to the top of the pile for consideration: Matt Rinaldi and Bennett Ratliff.

If the name “Ratliff” sounds familiar, it’s because Bennett Ratliff is the son of former Texas State Senator and brief Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff. Bennett is also the brother of the infamous State Board of Education member / lobbyist, Thomas Ratliff, whose tenure on the SBOE has been embroiled with such a serious conflict of interest that the Attorney General was compelled to weigh in.

Apart from family ties to Texas politics, Coppell school board member Bennett Ratliff boasts ties to current heavy hitters on Team Straus. Three of the Speaker’s most influential cardinals are officially supporting Ratliff: Rep. Charlie Geren (Chair, House Administration), Rep. Jim Pitts (Chair, Appropriations), and Rep. Burt Solomons (Chair, Redistricting). Another vocal Straus supporter, Rep. Diane Patrick, has also publicly backed Ratliff.

According to a Capitol Inside article from earlier this month, “Ratliff suggested that he’d received no indications from Straus about the possibility of the speaker taking sides in the HD 115 race.” But with an endorsement line-up reading like a who’s who of Straus’ power-brokers, there should be no mystery of where the Speaker stands.

What might public support from such high-falutin’ figures suggest about how Mr. Ratliff might act if he were sent to Austin?

According to the Fiscal Responsibility Index, Reps Geren, Pitts, and Patrick have each failed to protect taxpayers, having garnered cumulative scores of “D” and “D+” respectively. Only Chairman Solomons can boast a passing cumulative grade of C+ (and that’s still below the House Republican average score of B).

If the records of those who have surrounded Mr. Ratliff are to be any indication of how he might legislate in Austin, taxpayers in Dallas County have cause for concern.

Ratliff refers to himself as a “lifelong conservative republican” having attended two Texas GOP conventions and having “supported and attended local Tea Party activities”.

His Tea Party credentials may be difficult to support, however. After inquiring with several of the local Tea Party organizers in the HD 115 area, very few had ever met or heard of Mr. Ratliff despite his recent attendance at a local group’s meeting and a school board update of his own last March.

It would appear that the case for Mr. Ratliff’s candidacy rests more on his political pedigree and family’s name than on any substantive conservative record.

Matt Rinaldi, on the other hand, has more clearly demonstrated a consistent commitment to conservative principles.

According to his press release Rinaldi has been “active in Republican politics for approximately 20 years.” He is currently a member and leader involved with several Republican organizations and has “been an active participant” in the Tea Party movement. In 2009, Rinaldi served as the co-chairman of the Media Committee for the Dallas Tax Day Tea Party.

Mr. Rinaldi has received the support from local conservative activists and Tea Party organizers citing his dedication to and tireless work on behalf of conservative causes. Taxpayer Champion Rep. Ken Paxton supports Rinaldi, calling him a “proven conservative” and “seasoned advocate for Republican principles and family values.”

Adding additional dimension to the race, local Farmers Branch Tea Party activist and assisted living provider Lib Grimmett is also running for the seat pledging a “grassroots citizen movement with [Grimmett] as the spokesperson”.

Like Rinaldi, Grimmett’s candidacy embodies much of the sentiment that state government should be more responsive and representative of constituents.

All in all, taxpayers and conservatives in north Dallas County will have a distinct choice for state representative. Either a candidate with a political name and pedigree who has been anointed by the House Speaker’s cheering section, or a committed individual whose principled dedication has inspired the respect of conservative activists and leaders alike.