Nestled in the southwest corner of the Piney Woods, Texas House District 18 has been occupied by the Republican establishment for over ten years. However, a retirement by House Budget Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton) has put the seat in play for conservatives.
Dominated by a crowded field, the race didn’t garner much attention until it progressed to a two-way between Keith Strahan, a small business attorney from Liberty, and Ernest Bailes, a Coldspring businessman who runs a deer breeding operation.
Conservatives are rallying around Strahan who has been actively involved in grassroots organizations throughout Southeast Texas, serving as a founding board member of the Republican Liberty Caucus of CD36 and Christians for Liberty. Boasting a strong record as a local conservative activist, Strahan carries endorsements from statewide conservative organizations such as Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Texas Right to Life.
For the establishment, their preferred candidate didn’t even make the runoff. Wes Hinch, the Liberty County attorney, was handpicked by Otto who bankrolled his campaign with $50,000.00. From reviewing finance reports it looks as though the lobby soured on Hinch and began filling the campaign coffers of Ernest Bailes.
The steady trickle began with $500 from Texas Dairymen PAC in October, then $10,000 from Texas Deer Association PAC in November, followed by $20,000 from the Texas Farm Bureau at the close of December. Since placing second on Election Day, many more lobbyists have jumped at the chance to get in bed with the would-be politician. Recently, Bailes has been endorsed by the fake pro-life organization Texas Alliance for Life, which supported other pro-abortion candidates in the same election.
Concerning in its own right, Bailes’ bad company isn’t limited to lobbyists and pretenders. He also employs the Murphy Nasica consulting firm. An exclusive ally of the House leadership cartel, the organization manages campaigns against leading conservative warriors such as State Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) and Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving).
Many conservatives are left wondering, “If Bailes is one of us, why is he so clearly aligned with those against us?”
According to Bailes’ consultant, Craig Murphy: “Austin lobbyist [sic] tend to support Bailes … because they expect him to win.”
Many Texans understand that you are known by the company you keep, and while Bailes may have the “right” rhetoric, he’s surrounded by the usual Austin insiders. Meanwhile, Strahan is a proven commodity—a consistent movement conservative that voters should support.
UPDATE: Correcting a prior version, this article identifies Murphy Naisica’s work against conservatives like Jonathan Stickland and Matt Rinaldi. The article has also been updated with a quote from Craig Murphy.