The Brief: Texas Political News for Dec. 10, 2013

The Big Conversation

In the blink of an eye, Steve Stockman has turned the upcoming Texas GOP primary into a nationally significant contest with his last-minute launch of a conservative insurgency campaign against the state's senior senator, John Cornyn.

How unexpected was this? Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri was telling Politico 20 minutes from the filing deadline that he was “not expecting any recognizable names or people with substantial resources running aside from the senator.”

Stockman hasn't spent much time in Congress. He served a colorful term in the mid-1990s before fashioning an unexpected victory in the newly created Gulf Coast-based Congressional District 36 last year. But he sure knows how to keep a surprise. The only media outlet to get a heads up that he was running was the conservative-friendly media organization WorldNetDaily.

In fact, Stockman told WND that he had even kept Tea Party hero Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the dark. That may be just as well since Cruz is making it clear he doesn't intend to get involved in this intraparty conflict.

 

“As the senator has said many times, he will likely not get involved in any incumbent primaries,” Sean Rushton, Cruz’s communications director, told The New York Times.

The Times piece also identified the biggest difficulty facing a Stockman insurgency campaign: money. Stockman has just $32,000 in his campaign account, while Cornyn, the Senate's minority whip, has about $7 million. Also, the party primary will be held on time this cycle. The delays in setting the primary date last cycle because of legal challenges to the Legislature's new electoral maps were a huge factor in giving Cruz the time needed to gain momentum in his challenge of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for an open Senate seat.

Stockman, the early conventional wisdom has it, needs significant help from outside conservative groups to make his challenge viable. An early barometer there came from Matt Hoskins, the executive director for the Senate Conservatives Fund. He both applauded Stockman for running and criticized Cornyn for being "part of the problem in Washington."

But an endorsement wasn't immediately in the offing. If Stockman is to amount to anything more than just noise, he'll need to get groups like the SCF off the sidelines and soon.

Meanwhile, Stockman's abrupt decision to reorient his electoral energies has left his congressional district suddenly wide open. The Dallas Morning News' Nick Swartsell reports that "Doug Centilli, currently Rep. Kevin Brady’s chief of staff, has filed to run for the seat. ... He’s been Rep. Brady’s chief of staff since Brady was a state representative, and continued in that role when Brady was elected to Congress in 1996."

Other names in the race include former Seabrook City Councilman Kim Morrell, Houston attorney John Amdar and Hull business owner Phil Fitzgerald.

Culled

•    Dems, GOP fill their primary tickets with hope, optimism (Houston Chronicle): "Democrats celebrated their first statewide officeholder since the late 1990s Monday, when the candidate filing deadline saw Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence Meyers switch from the GOP to run for the Texas Supreme Court under the blue banner. They hope it is a sign of things to come as Democrats and Republicans gird for battle next year, after finalizing the candidates who will compete for their party nods in the primary elections."

 

•    Moderate Republican Branch moves further right (San Antonio Express-News): "State Rep. Dan Branch, locked in a Republican primary with two other candidates, has morphed in the past few months from a seemingly moderate Republican into a tea party firebrand, creating a perceived disconnect between his record and campaign rhetoric."

•    Judge in texting scandal files for Polk County DA (Houston Chronicle): "State District Judge Elizabeth E. Coker, who presided over Trinity, Polk and San Jacinto counties before resigning Dec. 6 under fire in a texting controversy, filed Monday to run for Polk County district attorney next year. ... Coker was accused of unethical bias during court proceedings, including sending as many as 40 text messages from the bench to prosecutors, tampering with witnesses and slipping into a jury room to tell those deliberating how to vote."

•    Ex-adviser: Garza abused campaign funds (San Antonio Express-News): "Finally, I can write about John Garza's $900 Christmas dinner at Bohanan's. Last year, I tried. But Kelton Morgan, Garza's political adviser at the time, planted in the journalistic muck a seed of doubt about the story, which had Garza, then a state representative, at the posh downtown restaurant with a flock of relatives on Dec. 24, 2011, and charging everything to his campaign fund. But now I can write about that dinner, for two reasons."

•    Civil trial explores medical, family history of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg (Austin American-Statesman): "District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg slid into a downward spiral of shame and guilt following a drunken driving conviction in April that led to months of political pressure and public criticism, according to testimony presented Monday in Travis County civil court."

Quote to Note: “We haven’t decided yet if we will endorse Steve Stockman, but we’re going to watch the race closely. Texas deserves two conservative fighters in the Senate, not just one. John Cornyn has voted for bailouts, more debt, higher taxes, and funding for Obamacare. He’s part of the problem in Washington and Republican voters deserve a choice.” — Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins, applauding but not endorsing the surprise challenger to Cornyn

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