Rep. Zerwas may be in crosshairs of PAC’s $100,000 ‘Dirty Dozen’ bounties

John Zerwas, Joe Farias
Texas Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, left, talks with Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, right, on the House floor, Friday, May 22, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A “Dirty Dozen” Texas House Republicans are being targeted by campaign bounties of $100,000 or more in the 2018 elections.

Among the yet-to-be-identified lawmakers reportedly on the hit list is Rep. John Zerwas, a key ally of retiring Speaker Joe Straus and a declared candidate for the speakership.

“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.


  1. Some of these guys are the ones who have helped to protect the State Employees’ Retirement System and the Teachers’ Retirement System from being gutted. There are some out there that want to get their hands on our money. They are supported by this PAC and the Empower Texas PAC.

  2. I noticed this article has Chris Paddie on their list. He sure needs to be out of office with his voting record being so liberal he might as well be a Democrat. Garrett Boersma Melody Spray Boyce Whatley Barron Neal David Scholl. Fuzz

  3. Wow so this means you can be bought. What if you take the money and don’t vote the way of the PAC your gone. So much for democracy. If you don’t see something wrong with this you don’t understand the constitution.

    • LOL I didn’t get listened to. In fact, I was rudely hung up on mid-sentence by Cooks office. Went to Austin to his office there — in person, twice — and both times the office door was locked to the public. During business hours.

    • I’ve had issues with Cook myself, but his opponent in the last election was funded by Empower Texas PAC & is much worse. He’s running again and Cook is not. We need another choice. Need someone to run on the Democratic ticket.

  4. Chairman Dickey is absolutly correct. If they don’t committ to following the cacus rules, kick them out of the party or at least censure them. NLP consider supporting Dr. Stuart Spitzer. Help us get Strauss supporter Lance Gooden out.

    • Marguerite Impagliazzo I am an INDEPENDENT. A left leaning one. Independent voters need to vote in the Texas open primaries. I am going to vote in the Republican primary to try to vote the religious fanatics out of office. I am saying the United States was a better place when we had conservative and liberal members of both parties. Theocrats have no place in America, we are not a Christian theocracy.

  5. So secret super rich”donors”,who they won’t identify,are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat republicans that might actually do what they were elected to do. As in work for the common good of all Texans instead of kissing the ass of their secret owners. When they start eating their own because they aren’t staying bought or bribed is very telling of the depths these lackeys of the wealthy are willing to go for their 30 pieces of silver.

    • They are elected to represent the will of the party (of people) that elected them. That party (and 6,000+ of the people of it) passed a platform that Straus and Cook and Zerwas and others used as toilet paper, much like Obama did the constitution.

      It’s way past time the RINOs turned in the elephant costumes. Their donkey ears kept poking through.

    • Thank God we have some wealthy donors who are willing to support true conservatives. If you want to know who’s hiding, just look where Strauss gets his money and where it goes. He sends a lot of money to the Texas Deer Assocation along with his democrat friends so they can funnel it out to their cronies. Also funds Alliance for Life, a phony organization that “claims” to be anti-abortion. Started it when Right to Life, the true anti-abortion group refused to endorse his (Strauss) boy’s that do his dirty work in the House.


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