Tea Party dominates in Texas but can it govern?

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May 28, 2014 No Comments ›› admin

By Lynn Woolley

If newspaper endorsements counted for much, David Dewhurst and Dan Branch would be making acceptance speeches. The big city newspapers in Texas – mostly with left-of-center editorial boards – pretty much came out for the establishment candidates. But Houston talk show host and state senator Dan Patrick demolished the incumbent Dewhurst. It wasn’t close.

Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst (Photo:  Texas Tribune)

Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst (Photo: Texas Tribune)

Patrick took 65 percent of the vote to Dewhurst’s 35 percent. Ken Paxton won with 64 percent of the vote to Branch’s 36 percent.

So what does it all mean?

In its morning editorial the Dallas Morning News is wary of what it calls “the Ted Cruz wing” of the Texas GOP. It has fervor, says the newspaper, But can it govern?

The short answer is “of course.”

Dan Patrick will not be running Austin in a vacuum. Assuming he defeats Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in November, he will work with the governor –presumably Greg Abbott – and the more moderate House Speaker Joe Straus – and he will get things done. Patrick will act like a Democrat in just one respect: he will favor his own party. Just as the Democrats in Congress passed Obamacare without a single Republican vote, Patrick will seek to advance conservative causes. That may cause some rancor, but, after all, this is politics. And it’s how the Democrats play the game.

Will Patrick, as some commentators fear, cut programs to the bone – essential items like education and transportation? It remains to be seen what he will try to do. But Patrick is smart and he is well informed. If he ties education funding (to the extent he has the power) to reform, it might be beneficial to students and parents. Texas schools could use some revamping in some areas. A back-to-basics approach would be wonderful.

Roads and water are crucial in a major growth state. Patrick will be just fine on these issues. Tea Party candidates are smeared by all five of Texas larger newspapers – but they are much more reasonable than they are given credit for. The Dallas Morning News’ Christy Hoppe did a long feature this morning on the Texas GOP’s “girl problem” – the fact that there is only one female nominee – Kay Granger. But Hoppe may not understand that conservatives don’t worry much about identity politics. Even the fact (as she points out) that Republicans passed pro-child, pro-life legislation does not roil Republican women. Hoppe seems clueless about this factoid.

Ken Paxton won big for Attorney General – even with some fairly large skeletons in his closet. I would be less than honest if I did not say that I am somewhat troubled by this. The choice between Paxton and Branch was hard for me because I do not tolerate ethics problems well. I had some problems with Sid Miller (Ag Commissioner candidate) as well. I could never vote for a Democrat in the Age of Obama, but I can vote for a non-Tea Party Republican if he is honest – over a Tea Party candidate who is ethically challenged.

Elsewhere, 91-year-old Congressman Ralph Hall from the Dallas area was sent into forced retirement. Hall had won his seat in 1980 when his opponent, John Ratcliffe, was 15 years old. Ratcliffe vowed to serve no more than 8 years. Over in Fort Worth, a Tea Party candidate looked to be winning the nomination for Wendy Davis’ old senate seat. A dentist from Dallas, David Alameel, will be the Democrat to take on Sen. John Cornyn. And the ultimate insult – famed singer and mystery writer Kinky Friedman was beaten by an unknown who did not campaign and had no staff. His name is Jim Hogan and he will not likely have much of a shot in November against Sid Miller.

So what’s next? Assuming the GOP in Texas takes the November elections as expected, the Tea Party gets a lot more influence in government in a state that the Democrats have been talking about turning blue. It actually tuned redder than ever and the Democrats’ “Battleground Texas” organization is going back to the drawing board.

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