Cruz Effect Likely in 2014 Primaries

Ted Cruz speaking at the state Republican convention on June 9, 2012.
Ted Cruz speaking at the state Republican convention on June 9, 2012.

He won't be on the ballot, but Ted Cruz will loom large over races in Texas next year.

The freshman U.S. senator's warm welcome during a recent trip to Iowa has prompted some to designate him a “front-runner” for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. The focus is all the more striking considering that Cruz had never held elected office before handily beating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a summer runoff for the Republican nomination for an open Senate seat last year. 

While his ability to garner sustained national interest remains to be seen, Cruz’s sway over the Texas conservative grassroots runs deep. It’s beginning to exert itself on the developing races for next year’s Republican primaries.

Case in point: the last 19 seconds of a recent interview between Cruz and conservative Dallas radio host Mark Davis.

“Make sure to say hello to my dear friend Konni Burton, who is up next,” Cruz told Davis. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it was more than enough to please Burton, a well-connected Tea Party activist now running for the Republican nomination for the state Senate district currently held by Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis. On Aug.10, Burton’s camp sent out a fundraising email with the subject line, “Ted Cruz Gives a Shout Out to Konni Burton.”

“It's not every day that the most prominent U.S. senator in America makes mention of a state Senate candidate,” the email notes, before linking to the audio and requesting a donation.

Cruz’s reach is also evident at races at the top of the ticket, in part due to his work as the former state solicitor general in Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office. In launching his bid to replace Abbott last month, state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he would staff his office with “constitutional conservatives” like Cruz.

Cruz has not made any endorsements of candidates in Texas, but one for Abbott to be the next governor seems inevitable. Cruz constantly praised Abbott during his yearlong Senate campaign, describing him as “the finest attorney general in the entire country.”

Abbott has not mentioned Cruz much since officially beginning his campaign for governor, but his former protégé’s growing national profile has already thrown one obstacle into Abbott’s carefully choreographed statewide bid. At a staged event last week meant to highlight Abbott’s opposition to Obamacare, questioning from reporters prompted the attorney general to make news by distancing himself from Cruz’s calls for temporarily shutting down the federal government in the hopes of blocking the federal law’s full implementation.

“That’s outside the sphere of my expertise,” Abbott said at the event.

It’s an early preview of how the rest of the campaign season could play out: Cruz staking out positions targeting a national audience; Texas Republican candidates scrambling to catch up.

Hospitals Zinged for Readmission Rates

Will Federal Moves Spur Texas Criminal Justice Change?

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans for a “fundamentally new approach” to the nation’s criminal justice system last week, reformers who have been working for years to the change the system in Texas said, “Welcome to the party.”

“States like Texas have been enacting reforms for a number of years, and people have come to realize you can be both tough and smart on crime,” said Marc Levin, director of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice.

But reform advocates say there’s still more to do in Texas, and they’re hoping the federal action will spur further changes here. 

“There is work to be done, most definitely, on sentencing reform in Texas,” Levin said.

Since 2007, Texas has led the way nationally in criminal justice reforms, implementing alternatives to incarceration, increasing probation and parole programs, and using specialized courts to help habitual criminals and drug addicts break the prison cycle. Texas’ prison population fell to about 150,800 this year from more than 156,000 in 2011.

On Aug. 12, Holder said that American prisons had become too populous and were occupied by those whose crimes were less serious. He announced, among other initiatives, that he would direct federal prosecutors to refrain from prosecuting each federal violation that crossed their desks. Noting that nearly half of federal prisoners were serving time for drug-related offenses, Holder ordered changes to mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation – while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” he said in the announcement.

Jorge Renaud, a policy analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said he hoped the federal effort to reduce sentences for drug crimes would spur state lawmakers to re-examine similar proposals here.

More than half of the 20,313 Texas prisoners serving time for drug-related crimes were convicted of possession, not delivery or other offenses, according to a February report by the coalition. Texas spends more than $500,000 per day to incarcerate those offenders, according to that report. 

“We need to reserve prison for those we’re afraid of, not for those we’re just angry at,” Renaud said. “We are spending incredible amounts of money on prison.”

One of the measures Renaud and Levin said they hoped lawmakers would reconsider in the wake of federal reforms is House Bill 1417 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. That bill, filed in the 83rd legislative session, would have made possession of trace amounts of controlled substances a Class A misdemeanor instead of a state jail felony.

Levin said he hoped lawmakers would also consider updating the punishment for property crimes to reflect inflation since the law was written two decades ago. Under the current law, property crimes with a value of $50 or more are considered Class B misdemeanors with a penalty of up to six months in jail. But what was worth $50 when the law was originally written is worth more than $80 today. State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, filed a bill this year that would have adjusted the law to account for inflation, but the regular legislative session ended before the measure passed.

“I think that there are a lot of sentencing issues we hope the next Legislature will tackle,” Levin said. “And perhaps this will increase the momentum for that.” 

Predicting GOP Primaries in Statewide Races

We asked our insiders this week who they think the early front-runners are to win the primaries for several 2014 statewide races.

In the Republican primary for railroad commissioner, 23 percent chose state Rep. Stefani Carter, R-Dallas, as their choice to occupy a spot on the board that doesn't oversee railroads but does regulate oil and gas. But more than 43 percent of our insiders didn't register a vote for any of the four candidates we asked about.

In the GOP primary for agriculture commissioner, the insiders' clear choice was state Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. Nearly half of our insiders said they thought Creighton would be the GOP's choice to replace Todd Staples, who is running for lieutenant governor.

Among the announced Republican candidates for land commissioner, the office currently held by the colorful Jerry Patterson, George P. Bush was the clear favorite, with nearly 98 percent predicting he would win the race.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who led the Senate's battle for tighter abortion restrictions, was the insiders' choice in the Republican primary for comptroller, well ahead of state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (who is expected to announce his bid on Tuesday), former state Rep. Raul Torres and former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina.

We collected comments along the way and have included the full set as an attachment. Here’s a sampling:


Who do you think would win the Republican primary for comptroller?

• “Medina is the best communicator - clear, concise, and with a talent for framing things in a way that resonates with average Texans.”

• “Three unremarkable, inarticulate, bland male candidates are unlikely to be a match for Debra Medina. Hegar might make it to a runoff with her.”

• "Hegar and Hilderbran have the chops to discuss fiscal policy, but in today's media savvy world Hegar comes across as young, smart, articulate and more polished.” 


Who do you think would win the Republican primary for land commissioner?

• “Bush gets to ascend to high office in Texas. All hail the boy prince (or off with your head)!”

• “Didn't George P. Bush already win this?”

• “Bush family name carries the day.”

• “He's got the name, he's got the money.”

• “Dy·nas·ty: a succession of rulers of the same line of descent.”


Who do you think would win the Republican primary for agriculture commissioner?

• “Unless the trust fund rancher buys this seat, the race should be Creighton's to lose.”

• “Unfortunately, Brandon Creighton. With the qualifications of this group substantially equal, look for good looks to prevail.”

• “No one wins. We all lose.”

• “If those are my choices, thank goodness I left the farm.”

• “With a name like "Doc," how could he lose?”


Who do you think would win the Republican primary for railroad commissioner?

• “Expect to see George P. and Malachi on the campaign trail together.”

• “Smart guy, great name and has experience in the oil and gas industry.”

• “Who are these people?”

• “I went with 'Don't know' because 'Don't care' (which is the same reaction as most Texas voters) was not an option.”

• “Although I don't normally vote Republican, most of these folks are relatively unknown.  The only one I know of is Rep. Stefani Carter, but she wasn't an effective legislator so I don't know how far that'll carry her.”

The Calendar

Monday, Aug. 19

  • U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Houston for Kingwood Tea Party and the Montgomery County Republican Party fundraisers

Tuesday, Aug. 20

  • Cruz in Dallas for town hall meeting on defunding Affordable Care Act

Wednesday, Aug. 21

  • Cruz in Round Rock, Georgetown and Kerrville

Thursday, Aug. 22

  • Cruz in Austin and Waco

Friday, Aug. 23

  • Cruz to attend GOP fundraiser in Dublin, N.H.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lost his bid for U.S. Senate more than a year ago, but his campaign still has outstanding bills — to the tune of nearly $1 million. Among the people the multi-millionaire owes: Republican consultants Dave Carney, Mike Baselice and Jim Bognet. Dewhurst’s camp blamed the alleged embezzlement by former campaign manager Kenneth “Buddy” Barfield. A spokesman said Dewhurst is vigorously pursuing the return of those funds, which should’ve been used to make those payments.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has said she’ll either run for re-election or run for governor. But Democratic groups aren’t waiting for her answer. Annie’s List launched, a site aimed at lobbying the filibustering senator to run for governor. And Battleground Texas, the Lone Star Project and the Texas Democratic Party have all emailed supporters with separate petitions to encourage Davis to run.

From the folks who brought you Make Us Great Again — the fundraising arm for Rick Perry's failed presidential bid — comes Americans for Economic Freedom, an organization to help the outgoing governor promote Texas' business climate and feel out a possible second run for the White House. The Dallas Morning News reported that former Perry chief of staff Mike Toomey and top-dollar donor Brint Ryan are heading up the group; they want to transfer Make Us Great Again's remaining $200,000 to Americans for Economic Freedom. 

A state district court judge banned a small Hill Country school district from using lessons produced by the controversial and highly politicized curriculum tool CSCOPE until the State Board of Education can vet them. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands; and conservative activists lauded the court order against Llano ISD at a news conference.

A new report from the Legislative Budget Board finds that state spending will have dropped by more than 11 percent between 2002 and 2015 when population growth and inflation are taken into account. The Houston Chronicle reported that the findings bolster the claims of Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who had fired back at a contrary Wall Street Journal story.  

It's getting increasingly difficult to find a white male Democrat in the Texas House. The Dallas Morning News reports that next year's elections could leave five or fewer of them in the lower chamber, mirroring a national political trend. In Texas, this is largely the result of the disappearance of the conservative branch of the state Democratic Party.  

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry has named Kathy Walt his chief of staff and Jonathan Taylor his director of economic development and tourism. Aaron Demerson is Perry’s senior adviser for economic development.

Walt, a longtime Perry adviser who previously worked as his deputy chief of staff and press secretary, most recently served as executive manager for governmental affairs at the Lower Colorado River Authority. Taylor was director of enterprise projects at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and previously directed the Texas Emerging Tech Fund. Demerson has been with Perry’s economic development team since 2003, and previously managed the Texas Tomorrow Fund in the comptroller’s office. 

State Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, has announced his candidacy for agriculture commissioner. Reliably, the state sovereignty fan said that Texas farmers and ranchers “have never before had to deal with the kind of overreaching federal government that we have in Washington today.” So far he has at least two Republican opponents: Eric Opiela, a former executive director of the state Republican party, and J Allen Carnes, the mayor of Uvalde.  

Ted Seago is considering a run for HD-16, Brandon Creighton’s current seat. Seago is an educator and the senior pastor of Grace Community Church at Fish Creek, and has been active in efforts to pass more restrictive anti-abortion legislation in Texas. 

Mike VanDeWalle, a Republican, is running for former Democratic Rep. Mark Strama’s Austin seat. VanDeWalle, a chiropractor with a Travis County practice, describes himself as a fiscal conservative “with strong concerns about the damage now being done to the American health care system.”

Dennis Golden, a Carthage optometrist on the medical staff at East Texas Medical Center, is considering a run for HD-9, the seat currently held by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall. Golden is one of Gov. Rick Perry’s appointees to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Golden said he’ll make an announcement after Labor Day. 

Stuart Spitzer, a Kaufman surgeon, is running for the Republican nomination for HD-4, currently held by state Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell.  

Sam Brown, a retired Army captain who was severely wounded in Afghanistan, will run as a Republican in North Texas' HD-102, which is an open seat since state Rep. Stefani Carter is running for the Railroad Commission. 

Quotes of the Week

From Molly Ivins to Louie Gohmert and every opinion between Texans value free and open political speech. I’m sure any rodeo in Texas would be proud to have performers.

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, in a statement inviting an Obama-mocking rodeo clown banned from the Missouri state fair to perform in Texas

That would be safe to say, yes.

Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paulasked by Fox NewsNeil Cavuto whether he would oppose New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie if he ran for president in 2016

If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, at a recent town hall meeting in Luling

My legal team tells me I have various options, all of which we are exploring. I’ll keep you updated. But, trust me, the fireworks will be huge.

Conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan on the Texas Ethics Commission's closed-door hearing on complaints lodged against him

I am excited about the role of the Railroad Commission in the Texas economy, and political ambition is not part of my DNA. For that reason, I pledge to fulfill the entire term of the office, without question.

Former state Rep. Ray Keller, a Railroad Commission candidate, with a not-so-veiled jab at the political ambitions of some members of the comission