As the dust has settled from Tuesday’s primary election, two groups lost big: the establishment donors who paid big into the protection racket, and the “second-rung” of legislative coalition sycophants.
Many of those who spent the last several years helping to fill the establishment leadership’s campaign coffers did so hoping for protection from regulation (or, conversely, competition). Favoritism is expected in return for being in with the coalition in power. They didn’t count on those dollars being used almost exclusively to protect just a few incumbents.
At the same time, that coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans running the Texas House desperately cling to their power because of the influence they can wield for their cronies.
This was an election turnout no one forecasted, and it played into the brute-force campaign of well-healed incumbents. With a massive turnout of people who knew very little about the down-ballot candidates, incumbents who spent ridiculous amounts of money – for a normal cycle – had to squeak by on name ID.
That won’t happen again. Those new voters aren’t people who, once educated on the incumbent’s record, will vote for that incumbent again. Ever.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Joe Straus (San Antonio) spent more retaining his seat than is usually spent by multiple candidates combined in congressional contests.
The money Straus spent on himself meant it wasn’t available elsewhere. Straus outspent his two opponents by 20-to-1. (The Empower Texans PAC successfully spent $30,000 in mail, independent of the campaigns, with the intention of goading Straus into spending heavy – which he did.)
By spending nearly $4 million on his legislative re-election – a record in Texas, and possibly in the nation – Straus ensured the defeat of State Reps. Marsha Farney (Georgetown) and Debbie Riddle (Spring), and allowed conservatives to push Reps. Wayne Smith (Baytown) and Doug Miller (New Braunfels) into run-offs, which are never easy for incumbents to survive. Smith and Miller are being challenged by Briscoe Cain and Kyle Biedermann, respectively.
Consider this: Straus spent roughly on his race what the combined PACs of the conservative movement spent in total on all races.
Self-serving actions are the hallmark of Straus’ inner-circle – not only in policy but also in politics. His closest ally, State Rep. Byron Cook (Corsicana), followed Straus’ lead. Cook spent in excess of $1.1 million to eke out a “win” by less than one percent. That’s a pyrrhic victory at best.
What the establishment failed to do was take out any of the conservative leadership: State Reps. Jonathan Stickland (Bedford), Matt Rinaldi (Irving) and Tony Tinderholt (Arlington) were targeted for defeat with big-spending opponents. Yet all three won decisive victories.
Only one conservative incumbent lost outright: Stuart Spitzer of Kaufman, who was criticized for having failed to execute a campaign plan. Meanwhile, State Rep. Molly White of Belton was down by a few dozen votes and irregularities in that race have triggered a re-count.
What conservatives gained are folks like Mike Lang (Granbury), Kevin Roberts (Spring) and Tom Oliverson (Houston), who won seats that had been held by Straus loyalists that walked off the playing field rather than face a re-election fight. Conservatives are in strong positions to make gains in open seat runoffs, like Keith Strahan (Liberty), Cole Hefner (Mount Pleasant), and John Keating (Frisco).
The establishment has been spending the week warming themselves by the fires of their pyrrhic victories. But the chill of reality will soon set in: the conservative resistance isn’t going away. In fact it has gotten stronger.