Establishment politicians spent big to protect their inner-circle, while conservatives continued making gains.
House Speaker Joe Straus spent nearly $4 million on his own race, declaring an early victory, while his top committee chairmen retired fearing defeat, lost their primaries, or won by small margins. (For comparison, Straus spent more on his House race than any statewide non-presidential race on the ballot.)
While the hallmark of a speaker is protecting his supporters, Straus was protecting himself at the cost of continuing to hemorrhage lieutenants.
Straus’ State Affairs Committee chairman Byron Cook spent more than $1.1 million and won re-election by less than a percentage point.
The chairman of the Licensing Committee, Wayne Smith, and the chairman of Special Purpose Districts, Doug Miller, are now facing tough run-offs against conservative challengers Briscoe Cain and Kyle Biedermann.
State Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Straus loyalist on the powerful Calendars Committee, was defeated outright by Valoree Swanson in a four-way race.
Meanwhile, decorated veteran Terry Wilson defeated liberal State Rep. Marsha Farney, who was rumored to have been tapped by Straus to helm the Public Education Committee in 2017.
On the other hand, conservative fighters Jonathan Stickland, Tony Tinderholt, and Matt Rinaldi won big re-election fights. Stickland, Tinderholt, and Rinaldi were top targets of the establishment, with the opponents slinging copious amounts of mud to no avail.
When they won, the establishment adopted the language of their opponents, running from their records and embracing reforms they had obstructed during the legislative session.
Consider, for example, the race waged by Cook. He has spent the last two legislative sessions seeking to give drivers’ permits to illegal immigrants, but was forced to abandon those plans and come out tough on illegal immigration.
There were some big wins that could be easy to miss. For example, Straus cronies like Jim Keffer and Patricia Harless left office after challengers Mike Lang and Kevin Roberts, respectively, announced against them. The same goes for John Otto, whose seat is now in a run-off featuring conservative Keith Strahan against an establishment sycophant.
Conservatives were looking for a knock-out victory against the coalition of liberal Republicans and Democrats in the House. While that didn’t happen, the battleground continued to tilt in conservatives’ favor.
Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott are aggressively pushing a conservative agenda for 2017. Unfortunately, the block of obstructionists in the House remain. But fortunately, conservative fighters in the House will be back with friends. They will be better equipped and reinforced to carry the battle forward.