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The Runoffs: Our Final Four

With a few days to go before the April 13 runoffs, we check in on the last four on our list: three of them with incumbents in Bryan, El Paso, and Lubbock defending their seats, and a fourth for an open seat, also in Lubbock.

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This is the first day of early voting in the lead-up to runoff day, April 13. There are a number of hard-fought contests on the second round of the ballot, and we've previously posted stories about most of them: in House districts 47, 52, 127 and 66, in Congressional districts 23 and 17, and in District 10 of the State Board of Education. Today we present our final four runoff stories.

Emily Ramshaw checks out HD-14, where veteran state Rep. Fred Brown, R-College Station, is facing former Brazos County Tax Assessor-Collector Gerald "Buddy" Winn in a test of whether voters want tried and true or someone new:

Brown raised more than eight times what Winn did in the month leading up to the primary — $29,000 to $3,600 — and spent 10 times as much in that time period. Brown got 44 percent of the primary vote in the four-way race, not enough to avoid a runoff. But Winn, who came in second with 26 percent, said he thinks he’s got the momentum to pick Brown off in April. (The winner of the runoff is the winner of the seat, as here’s no Democrat running in November.)

“There’s not gonna be but 8,000 votes” in the runoff, Winn said matter-of-factly in a booth at the Bryan/College Station Denny’s, dousing a stack of pancakes in butter and syrup. “It’ll be interesting to see if money buys the position back for Fred or if the people take it back for me.”

Brandi Grissom wades into the bashing and brawling and name-calling by state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, and her challenger, Naomi Gonzalez, as each tries to survive what may the nastiest race of the year and to win the right to represent HD-76 next session:

Gonzalez has focused much of her campaign on telling voters that Chavez’s style makes her unable to work with other lawmakers, particularly her colleagues in the El Paso delegation. In her most recent TV spot, Gonzalez said she wants to cut taxes and create jobs, and she added, “I know the best way to do this is by working with others and not against.”

She has also argued that Chavez is in the thrall of lobbyists — last year, for instance, they paid for her college graduation party. Yet Gonzalez has had to fend off repeated attacks over her own relationship to the lobby. The bullk of her campaign contributions, about 88 percent, have come from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that supports limits on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. TLR has typically supported Republicans but also gives money to Democrats, including Chavez, whose haul from TLR over the years totals nearly $20,000. Because so much of Gonzalez’s money has come from the tort reform group, Chavez has said her opponent is owned by them and has accused her of being a closet Republican, a major insult in this Democratic district.

And Ross Ramsey reports in from Lubbock, where two seats are up for grabs. The first is an open seat, thanks to the retirement of state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, who has endorsed insurgent John Frullo as his successor against former Texas Tech regent and school board president Mark Griffin. Griffin came within a hair of winning the HD-84 seat outright the first time around:

The contest ... pits inside-the-tent Lubbock Republicans against a coalition of social and libertarian conservatives who are distinctly unhappy with government in Washington and Texas. In that frame, Frullo's the insurgent and Griffin represents the establishment.

"I feel a little like Don King," jokes Chris Winn, chairman of Lubbock County's GOP, but he downplays the ideological splits. "In Lubbock, what you have are people who espouse limited government, freedom and liberty. Those values have been the cornerstone of the Republican Party back as far as Goldwater and Reagan," he says.

"What it comes down to right now are which individuals show they are experienced to work in Austin for what's best for Lubbock," Winn says.

The second seat, HD-83, is currently held by state Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, who was first elected to the House in 1964. To keep his job, he has to first get past Tea Party candidate organizer Charles Perry, who's capitalizing on voter anger at incumbents:

Jones says he's got the relationships and the experience to represent Lubbock at a particularly trying time. The state will draw new political districts next year, and West Texas, which is hemhorraging population, will lose seats. Jones heads the House Redistricting Committee and says he offers the area's best chance to cut those losses.

"Nothing else matters except redistricting," says Scott Mann, a former Republican county chairman who's advising Jones. That might actually be true in policy terms, but redistricting is almost supernaturally boring to most voters. Perry is chiding Jones for his votes against concealed handguns and voter ID and, more recently, in favor of a bill to allow non-citizens living legally in Texas to go to college at in-state tuition rates. Perry twists that vote (which was unanimously passed by both houses of the Legislature) into "support for taxpayer-funded scholarships for illegal aliens." That's not exactly truthful, but it's a sticky message.

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