Perhaps one of the biggest upsets in May’s runoff’s elections was Rep. Ralph Hall’s loss to his Republican primary challenger, and former U.S. Attorney, John Ratcliffe. Most news headlines note that Hall is the oldest sitting U.S. House member and the oldest House member in history to both serve and cast a vote.
He’s also one of extraordinarily long tenure as a public official, serving a total of 56 years.
But this race was of much greater significance to those who understand the structural political challenge Texans face at every level; entrenched incumbents protected by the party elite.
Since Texas became a state, Hall’s loss marked the first election in which a sitting Republican U.S. Representative from Texas failed to obtain his party’s re-nomination.
Stated differently, never has a sitting House member in Texas been defeated in the Republican primary by a challenger!
But Hall’s seemingly providential political career serves as more than just a prototypical example of the power of incumbency. We’ve previously demonstrated the importance of county and local elections for both policy and political reasons. Not only is Texas largely governed locally, but we are in the midst of a local debt epidemic.
Local governments are also breeding grounds for aspiring politicians to build valuable name-ID and political clout useful for future political campaigns. Former Fort Worth City councilwoman, Democrat Sen. Wendy Davis (Fort Worth), and former Coppell ISD Trustee, Republican Rep. Bennett Ratliff (NW Dallas), are recent examples. They both earned an “F” on TFR’s Fiscal Responsibility Index.
Fortunately for taxpayers, neither will be returning to the legislature. Nor will they be succeeded by establishment Republicans, but rather by conservative standouts Konni Burton and Matt Rinaldi, respectively.
Although Hall’s record as a blue-dog-Democrat-turned-mainstream-Republican differs dramatically from both Davis and Ratliff, his political career spawned in similar fashion.
Hall was first elected locally, as a Rockwall County Judge in 1950. After Ray Roberts vacated his seat in 1962 to replace the deceased House Speaker, Sam Rayburn, Hall moved into the Texas State Senate. In 1972, Hall unsuccessfully ran for Lt. Governor. Upon Ray Roberts’ eventual retirement from Congress in 1981, Hall returned to public office after a successful campaign for his seat, replacing Roberts in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Since the 4th district was created in 1903, only four men have occupied the Congressional seat over a 111 year period, despite being elected to two year terms. And even though a majority of the district has voted for the Republican presidential nominee since 1964, it did not have a Republican Congressman until Hall voluntarily switched parties in 2004.
Interestingly, it was death and voluntary retirement, not competitive primaries, that determined who would serve the constituents of Congressional District 4 for over 80 years….until John Ratcliffe.
To be clear, this isn’t an indictment of Mr. Hall, but rather indicative of apathy in state and local elections. Washington’s $17 trillion mess is a bi-partisan problem.
As I stated earlier, Ratcliffe’s victory was the first time that any sitting Republican incumbent in the House was defeated in a primary in Texas State history, after 257 unsuccessful attempts. A Republic ceases to function as such when incumbents enjoy lifetime tenure without the threat of defeat.
Imagine how ineffective businesses would operate if employees knew they couldn’t be fired?
Some say that term limits are the answer. But nothing can replace the power of an educated and engaged electorate.
Aside from voters supporting a competitive primary process, the next best remedy to the insidious problem of incumbency is for voters to reengage at the state, county and local level. After all, your Mayor, County Judge or Commissioner will likely find their way to state-wide office or Washington D.C.
A greater degree of competition in both the 2012 and 2014 primaries has resulted in extraordinary victories for conservatives across the state. May’s run-offs furthered solidified the growing momentum of the movement, resulting in the Dallas Morning News front-page headline, “Tea for Texas”.
As Michael Quinn Sullivan noted, the political establishment is on the run. Big government legislators, lobbyists and the cronies that feed them across the state are schizophrenically dismissing this year’s results and throwing frantic temper tantrums.
Imagine how impactful a greater degree of county and local activism will be in building a grassroots army of future conservative leaders at the state and national level?
As stated in a newsletter celebrating Battleground Texas’ one-year anniversary, the progressive left has already pledged to challenge every public office, from your City Council to the White House.
Will conservatives in Texas meet that challenge, or end up like California and Colorado, whose progressive minorities overwhelmed the conservative majority?