Insurgents Beat Veterans in Several Texas Runoffs

Voters routed state Reps. Delwin Jones and Norma Chavez on Tuesday, turned back former state Rep. Rick Green's bid for a spot on the Texas Supreme Court and handed victories to at least three candidates who appeared to benefit from the Tea Party insurgency in Texas. The two major parties have chosen their candidates for November, and once the Libertarians are done in June, the ballots will be set.

Republican voters in Lubbock and four other counties ousted longtime state Rep. Jones in favor of Charles Perry, a Tea Party organizer who campaigned for change and apparently got voters worked up about his candidacy: The runoff drew 17,501 voters — more than most primaries in March turned out. There's no Democrat ahead, so Perry will take a chair in the House next January.

In El Paso, Chavez, a Democrat who provided her political opponents with everything they needed to take her down, was in a close race with former Assistant County Attorney Naomi Gonzalez. Chavez lost the early vote and never caught up. The race was remarkably nasty, with Gonzalez capitalizing on Chavez's self-possessed blunders and Chavez, at one point, calling out Gonzalez as a lesbian one day and then making a public apology the next. And it was remarkably expensive, too, with outside lawyer (Chavez) and business (Gonzalez) interests pushing the total tab close to seven digits. 

The only other incumbent on the runoff ballot — Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan — easily won his runoff against Gerald "Buddy" Winn and will get another term in the House as a result. Like Perry's, his race didn't draw a Democrat.

Rick Green didn’t manage an upset against establishment-backed Debra Lehrmann last night. He finished well behind Lehrmann, who raised close to $280,000 since the March 2 primary.

After Justice Harriet O’Neill announced in August that she wouldn't seek re-election, Green, a former state legislator was one of six Republicans who jumped into the race. He and Lehrmann, the only candidates in the field with no appellate experience, pulled in front of the pack. The runoff campaign between Green and Lehrmann has been contentious, with the state bar firmly in the Fort Worth district court judge’s camp and social conservatives (including Chuck Norris) flocking to Green.

In early April, GOP elders circulated a letter cautioning voters not to “jeopardize” the court’s reputation “by electing someone who is likely to attract criticism and ridicule for himself and our entire judiciary.” Five former Supreme Court justices, including former Chief Justice Tom Phillips and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, supported her candidacy. She also received endorsements from two powerhouses of judicial politics: Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Medical Association.

Green, who raised almost $75,000 since the primary, received a nod from former Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, WallBuilders’ David Barton and several state legislators, including Reps. Leo Berman, Wayne Christian and Warren Chisum.

But all told, Green’s colorful past and lack of judicial experience may have proven too much for voters. While in the Legislature, his activity lobbying the state health department prompted a criminal investigation from the Travis County district attorney’s office, and his appearance in an early morning infomercial for a dietary supplement called FocusFactor in his Capitol office attracted criticism from his colleagues. Green also made headlines in 2006 for decking his successor, Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, on Election Day.

Lehrmann will face Democrat Jim Sharp in the fall. And in spite of the rancor, she said, the two remain friends: "I really want Rick Green to know that I appreciate him and what he's done for the state of the Texas in his own way."

John Frullo upset the establishment candidate in Lubbock's other race for the Texas House, an open seat in which Republican Rep. Carl Isett decided not to seek re-election. Isett endorsed Frullo and helped finance and run his campaign. And they overcame endorsements from the likes of state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, for Mark Griffin. The former Texas Tech regent nearly won the race in March, but a last-minute mailer in that round undercut his lead and set the table for his loss in the runoff. Frullo will face Democrat Carol Morgan in November.

Frullo, Perry and Van Taylor in Plano all had significant support from Tea Party supporters and from voters upset with incumbents in general. And their victories came in a week in which legislative Republicans pulled together a new group designed to co-opt some Tea Party ideas and to repair the fracture that appeared in this year's GOP primaries, and to do so before the November general election.

Taylor beat former Plano City Councilwoman Mabrie Griffith Jackson, who was endorsed by former Rep. Brian McCall. Taylor had the Tea Party folks (many of whom supported the third candidate, Wayne Richard, in the March primary) and also had endorsements from two other Collin County lawmakers, Reps. Jodie Laubenberg of Parker and Ken Paxton of McKinney. That wasn't even close, with Taylor — dubbed "Moving Van" by Jackson for his recent move into the district — pulling 58 percent in the runoff. There's no Democrat in that race, so Taylor is on his way to Austin.

Paul Workman defeated Holly Turner in a suburban Austin race in which the GOP hopes to knock out an incumbent. In this case, the target is Democrat Valinda Bolton. In the suburbs to the north, in Williamson County, Larry Gonzales handily won a nasty race against John Gordon that featured commercials with Gordon giving a traffic cop a hard time. Gonzales will face freshman Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock, in a race both parties say will be competitive. Jack O'Connor beat Dianne Williams in HD-149 and will face Democratic Rep. Hubert Vo of Houston in November.  

Career educator Marsha Farney easily defeated social conservative Brian Russell in a closely watched race for the State Board of Education. That's the seat now held by Cynthia Dunbar, and the outcome weakens the power of the conservative bloc that currently holds sway on that panel. Farney made it look easy, winning every county in the district and more than three-fifths of the votes cast.

Francisco “Quico” Canseco will challenge U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in the fall. Last night, he beat Will Hurd, who never overcame his lag in early voting numbers, with 53 percent of the vote — that’s about 700 votes.

The district is currently rated "likely Democratic" by Cook's Political Report, but an analyst there told The Texas Tribune that rating could change to favor a Republican victory if Canseco came out on top in the runoff. Conventional wisdom has it that Canseco could better appeal to the 65 percent of the district's voters who are Hispanic.

On primary night in March, Hurd was the frontrunner, coming out just over 400 votes ahead. But Canseco, who said he was “very humbled, but very, very thrilled” about his win, won Bexar County, where the most of the district’s voters live.

The 32-year-old Hurd moved to the district last summer after nine years as a CIA officer. At 60, Canseco has spent 30 years in South Texas as a banker, lawyer and businessman. He has also run in the 23rd before: In 2008 he lost the Republican primary to Lyle Larson, whom Rodriguez defeated in the general election.

Bill Flores pulled out an early win against Rob Curnock last night in the GOP contest to see who will challenge Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, for his seat in the conservative 17th congressional district.

Flores, a retired Bryan oil and gas executive, also came out on top in the March primary with 33 percent of the vote to Curnock’s 29. Curnock, who ended up with just 36 percent of the vote last night, has run for the Republican nomination in the district three times before. In 2000 and 2002, he was defeated in the primary, and in 2008 he ran unopposed and lost to Edwards in the general election by 8 percentage points.

Flores’ campaign brought former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, who endorsed the Texas A&M University alumnus and actively stumped for him on the trail, back into the limelight. At one point, Curnock’s campaign brushed off Gramm’s support as "just another example of Washington insiders working together.” Shortly after Flores’ victory, Edwards’ office released a statement congratulating him and saying the congressman “looks forward to the campaign ahead,” but emphasizing Edwards’ “strong support from Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.”

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