Questionable tactics, dueling accusations mark Geren, French primary

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A mailer questioning the professional ethics of state Rep. Charlie Geren and his wife, a high powered lobbyist, distributed by the conservative political advocacy group, Empower Texans, is the latest in what may turn out to be the ugliest state-level primary in this election cycle.

Given the long-standing political animosity between Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Michael Quinn Sullivan, Empower Texans’ president, Geren told The Texas Monitor today he fully expects things will get uglier.

“Mike is a liar,” Geren said. “He never lets the truth get in the way of whatever he’s doing. He lies about where he lives, he lies on the material he sends out. He’s an embarrassment to Texas A&M University, where my father and my grandfather went to school.”

Sullivan delights in the reaction his mailer has gotten from Geren, those in his campaign, and in the media. He’d like nothing better than to have the District Attorney’s office in Travis County act on a criminal complaint it had acknowledged receiving concerning the mailer.

“I love it,” Sullivan told The Texas Monitor early Friday. “It only amplifies what we’ve been saying all along about the weaponizing of the criminal justice system in Travis County. Remember, this is a place where the far left indicted Gov. Rick Perry for lawfully executing a veto.”

The mailer in question, circulated heavily in District 99 where Geren for a second time faces a primary challenge from Fort Worth business owner, Bo French. The mailer reads “NOTICE” in bold capital letters and below it “OF A RELATIONSHIP WITH REGISTERED LOBBYIST,” in smaller capital letters.

The relationship, the mailer says, is with Geren and Mindy Ellmer, his wife, and lists 15 of her top lobbying contracts, valued between $49,999 and $149,999

The notice says it is being distributed by the Texas Ethics Disclosure Board, a name made up by Empower Texans and registered in late January with the Texas Secretary of State.

Empower Texans, which has given more than $200,000 in this election cycle to the campaign of Geren’s opponent, Bo French, believed it important for voters in the district to recognize the relationship between a longtime state representative and an established state lobbyist, Sullivan said.

“This is a community property state, so we know that there is going to be conflict of interest here,” Sullivan said. “Voters ought know when he’s voting on something important, is he voting in the interest of the district or in the interest of his wife, the million-dollar lobbyist.”

Geren said he and his wife, have complied with every legislative requirement for transparency and have “filed every document concerning our property, including our condo, required by the Ethics Commission.”

A person identified only as a Tarrant County voter filed a complaint in Travis County, saying the mailer appears to be an official government document and alleging that Empower Texans is impersonating a public servant, a third degree felony.

Mindy Montford, first assistant district attorney for Travis County, said the allegation is under review. Geren said Friday the mailer was also turned over to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office for review.

Also hanging over this primary is a lawsuit French and wife, Sheridan, filed in December alleging that David Sorenson — acting as a “professional political operative” in the employ of Geren — made false reports that Bo French had abused his children. The report brought state Child Protective Services workers and a Fort Worth police officer to the French home four days before the 2016 primary. No one from the state child services agency returned after the primary, which Geren won by a margin of 16.5 percentage points, according to the suit.

On Friday, after his legal team deposed Sorenson and other members of Geren’s campaign, French told The Texas Monitor that the lawsuit and other false and defamatory statements about French’s character and his business acumen by Geren has shifted attention from the key issue in the primary: that Geren has falsely presented himself to district voters as a conservative, while working with Democrats to block Republican initiatives in the Legislature.

“Republican voters in District 99 want a conservative representing them,” French said.”They believed they had a conservative representing them, but they don’t. I’ve been trying to talk about the issues, but the ugliness in this primary has come from their campaign.”

Geren, who is seeking his tenth two-year term and is the chairman of the powerful House Administration Committee, lays the blame at the feet of Sullivan. Empower Texans has, for years, devoted campaign funds and untold hours of speech-giving and essay-writing to unseating Geren and allies of outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus.

When Geren got remarried to Ellmer, Straus, one of Geren’s closest friends, stood up in the wedding, he said.

“It’s well known that Mike doesn’t want to work with anybody,” Geren said. “But every time Joe Straus was elected speaker, it wasn’t because of Charlie Geren’s vote, it was by acclamation. It was never by anything less than 125.

“I don’t know if I’m the last (Straus) man standing, but I plan to stick around. We’ve been doing some polling and I believe I’m going to win.”

Not if Sullivan and French have anything to say about it. Sullivan has a reputation for mixing it up. As he said in a tweet on Thursday,  “When your opponents complain about how powerful and scary you are, don’t interrupt them.”

Also, when your opponents go into paroxysms of despair over your methods, don’t interrupt them. The Empower Texans mailer drove one Texas Monthly political writer to compare Sullivan to the “Russians who meddled in the 2016 election, foment distrust in government and diminish the desire of citizens to vote, which then primes the pump for abuse.”

“They’ve reacted exactly the way we expected they would,” Sullivan said. “Taking this to the Travis County DA is the best thing that could have happened to me. And we have forced them to write about it.”

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected]

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