With the backing of some of the local political establishment and an array of Austin lobby groups, West Texas liquor store owner Austin Keith is campaigning to succeed Tryon Lewis as the State Representative for District 81. But why is Keith running as a Republican when he has a record of donating to some of the most liberal Democrats in Texas?

Austin Keith is the owner of Pinkie’s, a chain of West Texas liquor stores. The chain was founded in the 1930’s by “Pinkie” Roden, a convicted bootlegger who was later pardoned by Governor Ma Ferguson. As a lobbyist for his business and the liquor industry in the 1960’s, Pinkie, fearing competition from bigger chain stores, pushed liquor laws that restricted the sale of liquor to package stores like his own. Pinkie wrapped his argument in morality, arguing that, “It was morally wrong that underage children should be allowed free access to stores where liquor was prominently displayed and sold.” Of course the reality was that the laws he pushed were designed to protect his business from competition.

Austin Keith continues to lobby on behalf of the liquor business, serving today as President of the Texas Package Store Association. In that position, Keith continues his predecessor’s legacy of conveniently using morality to protect his bottom line, using such arguments to combat measures to allow liquor sales on Sundays and other measures that would increase competition for his business.

Keith’s political giving history reflects his status as a member of the lobby class. He has all the requisite contributions to local politicians and powerful statewide officials. But notably, for a Republican candidate, he’s given to some of the most liberal Democrats Texas has to offer. According to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, Austin Keith has cut personal checks worth $1000 each to Rep. Trey Fischer and Sen. Judith Zaffirini and a check for $500 to Sen. John Whitmire, amongst others. Fischer and Zaffirini are notable as driving forces behind the efforts to stifle UT Regent Wallace Hall’s efforts to uncover public corruption at the system’s flagship campus.

Given Keith’s history of giving to Democrats, his answers at a recent candidate forum now make more sense. As we reported in January, when asked whether he agreed with the Republican party line on not raising taxes, Keith responded: “I can’t go into Austin as your candidate and be alienated out there by saying ‘no, no, no’ to everything.” Silly us, we thought the question was about taxes. Such an answer seems bizarre in light of Keith’s decision to run as a Republican. But when we look at some of the far-left Democrats he has supported, his pro-tax position seems to make a lot more sense.

Voters in House District 81 have a clear conservative choice in Brooks Landgraf. Texans for Fiscal Responsibility has endorsed Landgraf and we encourage voters in Andrews, Ector, Ward, and Winkler counties to support him on Election Day.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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