A “Dirty Dozen” Texas House Republicans are being targeted by campaign bounties of $100,000 or more in the 2018 elections.
“We are intent on removing the old leaders responsible for scuttling half of Gov. Greg Abbott’s commonsense agenda for the special session of the 85th Legislature,” the New Leadership PAC said Wednesday.
Noting that Straus, R-San Antonio, and loyal lieutenant Byron Cook of Corsicana announced their retirement plans just days after the PAC went public, NLP treasurer Don Dyer stated: “We are delighted our top two targets are gone. Many still remain.”
“Unless they are removed, the same old corrupt culture will prevail at the behest of special interest masters at the expense of ordinary Texans,” he said.
Without identifying the lawmakers in NLP’s crosshairs, Dyer told The Texas Monitor that a “Dirty Dozen” are targeted. The only name he mentioned was Zerwas, a six-term legislator appointed by Straus to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
“Rep. Zerwas appears to be running as the Democratic Caucus choice for speaker, which should not be acceptable for any Republican,” Dyer said.
After last Sunday’s church massacre at Sutherland Springs, Zerwas inflamed conservatives by declaring, “I’m not afraid of having [a] conversation” about gun control.
Zerwas, R-Richmond, did not respond to inquiries from The Texas Monitor by deadline.
To advance its House-cleaning effort, NLP is offering campaign bounties “starting at $100,000 to qualified challengers of Straus’s remaining core acolytes.”
That’s up from earlier commitment levels of $50,000, and NLP said the outlays could grow further.
“There is no upper limit,” Dyer told The Texas Monitor. “The opportunity to help our elected officials give the House back to the people of Texas is too important to think small.”
To be eligible for NLP support, candidates “must commit to reforming the corrupt culture in the House,” Dyer said.
Under Straus and his committee chairmen, some of them Democrats, conservative and free-market legislation ranging from property tax relief to school choice was killed in the House. Deregulation bills for small businesses also died while Straus publicly squabbled with the Senate over transgender bathrooms.
Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, figures Zerwas will be tough to take down.
“You’re going to need $200,000 to $250,000 and a top-tier candidate” to run a viable campaign against Zerwas, Jones estimated. The well-connected Zerwas is likely to receive generous funding from Straus’ seven-figure war chest and business groups.
Of 20 freshmen elected to House seats in 2016, campaign costs averaged more than $300,000, according to expenditure records examined by The Texas Monitor. The biggest spender was Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, at $672,251. The lowest tab belonged to Diana Arevalo, D-San Antonio, at $92,608.
In some races, $100,000 could be a difference maker, Jones said. “You don’t necessarily have to match an opponent dollar for dollar. Money even has diminished returns after a certain point. There are only so many direct-mail pieces you can send.”
According to political observers contacted by The Texas Montior, Straus-ites considered vulnerable to primary challenges from the right include Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood; Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches; J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville; Giovanni Capriglione, R-Keller; Ken King, R-Canadian; Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd; Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston; Chris Paddie, R-Marshall; Sarah Davis, R-West University Place; Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio; Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Linda Koop, R-Richardson; and Jason Villalba, R-Dallas.
Dyer said new donors to the New Leadership PAC are “engaging every day,” but NLP said it will not provide information about any of them until the Jan. 15 contribution disclosure deadline.
“I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the enthusiasm behind this cause,” the treasurer said. “I truly believe the days are numbered for the old crony crowd. Under the leadership of Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and a new House speaker with real integrity and courage, Texas will show the rest of the country what real reform looks like in 2019.”
NLP’s campaign gambit parallels moves in the House Republican Caucus to reform the process for selecting the next speaker. Instead of counting votes from minority House Democrats — who Straus relied on to win and retain his position — reformers want to put the choice in the caucus’s hands.
Republican Party Chairman James Dickey told The Texas Monitor that GOP House members should support whomever the caucus picks.
Zerwas, in an interview with the Texas Tribune last week, said he would not commit to backing the Republican Caucus’s choice for speaker.
Dyer said Republican members should be bound to vote for their caucus’s choice when the speaker election goes to the House floor — or be stripped of their caucus membership. “Otherwise, why even bother?” he asked.