Conservative State Representative Matt Schaefer and his establishment opponent, Austin lobbyist Skip Ogle, met for a debate on January 10th in Tyler. The event was hosted by Grassroots America: We The People and the two candidates spoke to a packed house. Schaefer walked out of the debate stronger than ever. After the event, Ogle’s campaign is on life support.

What did Ogle do that was so damaging?

First and most glaringly, Ogle failed to address the issue of his status as a registered lobbyist until 35 minutes into the debate. He talked like a lobbyist and told lobbyist stories, but he hid his primary occupation behind his home building business. When Schaefer challenged him for giving money to liberal Democrats (something lobbyists often do), Ogle even told a story about how those Democrats carried bills that were important to his lobby client. But yet he waited until 35 minutes into the debate before allowing Schaefer to frame the issue by outing him as a registered lobbyist. Ogle’s response: “I’ve been a lobbyist for many years.”

Next, Ogle’s current lobby client, Suddenlink, was exposed as a recipient of corporate welfare. Ogle’s response? He emphasized that Suddenlink gives the state free PSAs for the Governor to go on and talk about water conservation and for the “Christmas tree ornaments.” I doubt Ogle’s assertions made the taxpayers in the room any more confident that they are receiving a return on their investment in Suddenlink.

But it was finally during a section of the debate on transportation where Skip Ogle’s foot-in-mouth disease went terminal. Ogle started by praising Regional Mobility Authorities, the local super-governments that manage toll roads. In Ogle’s words, “toll roads seem to be working.” He then went on to recount a story that he had read in the Tyler Telegraph about a high speed rail proposal. Ogle called high-speed rail “a great idea.” Ogle even went so far as to praise “Public Private Partnerships” by name. These were the arrangements behind the Trans-Texas Corridor and they are behind many toll road projects today. In them, taxpayers contribute large sums of money to private toll road projects, cutting out risk and guaranteeing profits for highly-connected toll road companies.

But Ogle’s blunders on transportation didn’t stop there. After parroting Schaefer just minutes earlier on the issue of the ObamaCare health insurance mandate and how he shouldn’t be forced to buy a product, Ogle applied the very same idea to transportation. Ogle proposed that commercial trucks should be compelled to take toll roads, even against their will and profitability. Likewise he brought up oil field trucking in South Texas and suggested that Texas needs to start “charging them a little bit extra.”

By the end of the debate, Ogle’s attacks on Schaefer were being met with boos. But Ogle couldn’t end the debate without attacking Schaefer for accepting money from Empower Texans PAC, calling our PAC a “special interest.” It’s funny, really. The real special interest candidate, of course, is Skip Ogle. And at least in the House District 6 race, special interests are on their heels.

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.