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I will admit, this news this morning about former state rep. Tommy Merritt announcing his intention to run against Rep. David Simpson in HD 7 is just about the best thing St. Nicholas could have put in this aspiring pundit’s shoe. Or inbox. Whatever.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. The greatest primary victory for conservatives in Texas back in March 2010 was Merritt’s defeat at the hands of the soft-spoken Simpson. Simpson’s one of those fabled politicians most people only get to read about in history books – he tells it like it is, in this calm, smooth voice, his feathers rarely so ruffled he forgets why he was standing at the back mic. He isn’t about expediency, political glory, or accolades from peers with whom he disagrees. Listen to him awhile, and you get the feeling he and Congressman David Crockett of Tennessee have more than a little in common.

Merritt, on the other hand, recalls a totally different kind of fabled politician. He’s a glad-hander from way back, his grin telling you everything you need to know. He wants to represent “everybody” – a populist who schemes and plots, grasping your right hand and fishing in your left pocket all the while. Merritt liked to cozy up with the leftists in the state House – so much so he famously opposed the Republican caucus on key issues and was known to have gone to Democratic caucus meetings instead. There was a moment in 2009 where he was known as the “caucus of one” for opposing voter identification legislation that was a top priority for Republicans (remember this video?).

All joking aside, Merritt’s record in the House was harmful to the “everybody” he wishes to represent once more in HD 7. In addition to voting for a lot of bureaucracy and increased regulation on private industry while the Democrats still controlled the House, in 2001, the “liberals’ last stand”, Merritt demonstrated a total antipathy to fiscal conservatism. He voted to increase the cap on university student fees, for affirmative action in college admissions, and against parents having a say in whether underage girls should have access to dangerous pharmaceuticals. The next session, the first one in over a hundred years that Republicans had control of the Texas House (remember, “Republican” is what Merritt claimed to be), Merritt voted to increase state-funded pensions for non-state employees, for gambling legislation, for tuition deregulation, and to allow the city of Dallas to raise taxes to build a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys. Those are just a few of the gems from Merritt’s seven terms in the Legislature.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) missed "Republican" Merritt during the 82nd Legislature

One question that ought to be posed before this battle in east Texas begins again. In 2010, Speaker Joe Straus made clear his preference in that primary between Merritt and Simpson, making appearances for Merritt on the excuse that he was supporting incumbents in the House. Is protecting the incumbency of House members still a priority for Speaker Straus, and would he do for Simpson what he did for Merritt? It is a rhetorical question, you understand.

Interested in comparing Merritt’s overall voting record with Simpson’s? Young Conservatives of Texas has ratings going back to the 1970s, and Merritt came in 1997, the 75th Legislature. Check that out here. Simpson got an “A+” from Empower Texans and was named a “Taxpayer Champion”, and he was the highest scoring “rookie” for YCT, with a 91%. Merritt, in his final session in 2009, was rated at 63% from Empower Texans, and a 48% from YCT (his career rating was a dismal 56%, making him one of only three “Certified RINOs” when he was on his way out).

Conservatives have no reason to “miss” Tommy Merritt, the Caucus of One. Rep. Simpson has done a fine job and voters in HD 7 should keep it in mind; standing on principle is the best possible thing a legislator can do to represent all the people.