Recently released campaign finance reports show there is a new PAC promoting State Rep. John Zerwas (R–Richmond) as he campaigns for Speaker of the Texas House. The legislators the group is supporting illustrate Zerwas’s liberal establishment leanings.
Mere hours following Speaker Joe Straus’ announcement in October that he would be retiring from the Texas Legislature rather than face voters in a re-election campaign, Zerwas officially launched his bid for speaker. A lieutenant in the Straus regime, Zerwas’ record is an affront to conservatives, and includes leading efforts to bring Obamacare to Texas in 2013, killing efforts to repeal in-state tuition for illegal aliens in 2015, and most recently spearheading an attempt to raid the Economic Stabilization Fund as chair of the House Appropriations Committee in 2017.
After a flurry of media appearances shortly after his announcement, Zerwas’ campaign had since been relatively quiet. Until now.
New finance reports released yesterday reveal a new PAC, Texans for a Stronger Economy, that appears to have been created to support Zerwas’ run for speaker.
In the report, the PAC is shown to have raised $100,000. Half of that sum comes from Zerwas and his campaign, $25,000 comes from the CEO of the San Antonio Spurs, Julianna Holt, and an additional $25,000 comes from John Nau III, President & CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors.
The treasurer of Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign, Nau has come under fire recently for undermining Abbott’s conservative agenda by financially supporting liberal Republican State Reps. Sarah Davis of West University Place and Wayne Faircloth of Dickinson over their conservative Abbott-endorsed challengers. Nau also donates heavily to Associated Republicans of Texas, a group that exclusively supports establishment lawmakers and liberal challengers at the expense of conservatives.
Equally interesting is who the PAC is listed as supporting. While no expenditures were shown to have been made during the reporting period, the report lists a slate of establishment lawmakers the PAC is supporting.
Legislators Supported by Texans for a Stronger Economy
Recent finance reports show State Rep. Drew Darby (R–San Angelo), who is rumored to also be mounting a campaign for speaker, similarly donating to a slate of establishment lawmakers, with several names appearing on both lists.
Darby and Zerwas are largely considered to be rivals within the left-wing of the Republican Party, each pursuing the Appropriations Committee chairmanship during the last session of the Texas Legislature—a battle that resulted in a victory for Zerwas and a return to the Energy Resources Committee for Darby.
Given the donations that each of them are handing out, both Zerwas and Darby appear to be employing the same strategy of creating a coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans to gain the gavel. This despite House Republicans last year voting to change caucus bylaws to create a (albeit flawed) process to nominate a unified speaker candidate in caucus.
While a nomination is not binding on the members, Republicans are expected to pledge their support for the caucus’ eventual pick. Unsurprisingly, neither Zerwas nor Darby have signed the pledge to do so, with Zerwas recently suggesting he believed a speaker candidate needed support from Republicans and Democrats in order to win the position.
Ahead of Darby’s expected announcement, Zerwas is currently joined in the race by State Rep. Phil King (R–Weatherford). More candidates are expected to throw their hats in the ring before the legislature reconvenes (and members vote to select a new speaker) in January 2019.