When the Legislature convenes in January, nearly half of House lawmakers will be relative newcomers. Several incoming freshmen will hail from far North Texas, in booming Collin and Denton counties.
This conservative region north of Dallas has seen tremendous growth in recent years, which lawmakers addressed in redistricting. With few if any Democrats running, Republicans are expected to gain easy victories in at least five of these races, one in the Senate and four in the House.
The candidates in the May 29 GOP primary are working hard to outdo one another, duking it out over who has the most conservative credentials, and slinging mud in the final week before the primary.
GOP stalwart and Collin County Judge Keith Self says the voters in the area are tired of politics as usual, and that the "Tea Party movement is making a tremendous difference” in an area that is spiteful toward the federal government and looking to rebound from the recent economic downturn by reining in government spending.
But his counterpart in Denton County, Judge Mary Horn, has a different view. The longtime Republican and wife of a former state lawmaker says the party establishment remains committed to supporting candidates with “rock-solid conservative values." However, she is concerned the candidates’ trim-the-fat rhetoric doesn’t match up with reality.
“With the economy being what it is, they’re anti-tax. You have to be strong enough to have strength of convictions, but pick your priorities,” she said. “The budget’s always a struggle. You can’t keep giving, giving, giving without someone paying.”
Here’s a preview of the races to watch:
Republican incumbent Craig Estes is seeking a sixth term in the Texas Senate. The Wichita Falls businessman is running against Jim Herblin of Prosper, a candidate with a background in forensic accounting. Over the last decade, the district’s population center has shifted from Estes’ hometown to Denton, though Estes maintains a long list of endorsements from fellow GOP lawmakers and establishment organizations like the Texas Association of Realtors. Herblin has garnered support from conservative groups, including Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
In March, the Wichita Times Record News reported Estes might have been more closely connected to the bankruptcy of his family’s chemical company than previously acknowledged in public forums. The paper also reported that at one point, the company “amassed about $1.5 million in unpaid sales taxes to the state.” Estes has angrily denied he had anything to do with the filing. “I am tremendously perturbed at something that I don't think has anything to do with the campaign,” he said at the time.
His opponent, Herblin, has tried to make this a campaign issue. “Although we don’t have a lot of money, we feel we have a good chance of knocking him off,” Herblin said. “People are sick and tired of nothing getting done from SD-30.”
The Wichita paper didn't endorse either candidate. The Dallas Morning News threw its support to Estes, raising concerns that Herblin had a track record of trying to insert social issues into education policies during his time as a Richardson school board member.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Libertarian Richard Forsythe in the fall.
State Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, is seeking her seventh term in the House, running against Mike Brucia, a leader in the local Tea Party movement, in a district that includes two major universities.
Crownover’s chief of staff, Kevin Cruser, said his boss is busy pounding the pavement and taking no votes for granted. This year, she has garnered widespread endorsements from fellow Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry. The businesswoman and member of the House Appropriations Committee was given a coveted position on the 2011 Legislature’s budget conference committee, and has taken credit for reducing state spending.
Brucia, the head of a vending machine company and a veteran of the Air Force, says Crownover is “part of a broken system” that used smoke and mirrors to balance the state budget. If elected, he has promised to serve no more than three terms and to adhere to “the state’s core constitutional functions.” Responding to recent attack mailings from the Crownover campaign, Brucia acknowledged he filed for — and has since recovered from — bankruptcy in the 1980s.
The race to fill retiring state Rep. Burt Solomons’ seat features three political novices. Solomons is withholding his endorsement, but said that any one of the GOP candidates would be suitable for the job.
Republican observers say the race is mainly between insurance agent Dave Loerwald of Carrollton and financial adviser Ron Simmons of Lewisville. The Dallas Morning News endorsed Loerwald because of his skills as a “coalition builder,” but the Simmons campaign has held a fundraising advantage, enabling him to increase his name recognition throughout the district.
The race, like many, has taken a negative turn. Loerwald's campaign produced an ad that paints Simmons as someone who has been less than transparent about his resume. He also accused Simmons of being involved in lawsuits against other businesses. In an interview, Simmons said he would not dignify Loerwald’s ad with a response.
The candidates are hoping to avoid a runoff, but it's still a possibility. A third candidate in the race, property management businessman Mike Hennefer, said he has stayed out of the fray but is “having fun” and hopes to gain the vote of those who may be turned off by his opponents’ personal attacks on each other.
The winner of this primary will face Democrat Gary Brown in the general election.
When McKinney state Rep. Ken Paxton announced he would seek a vacant spot in the Texas Senate, he handpicked an old classmate from his Baylor University days to run for his Collin County seat.
Republican Scott Sanford is a certified public accountant and the executive pastor at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen. He is campaigning on a promise to "audit the government."
"I want to look under those rocks for things that need to be ferreted out, especially in the areas of waste and inefficiencies," Sanford said. Without tighter control of the budget, he said, public education will continue to get "squeezed” by other spending areas.
Sanford is running against Bracy Wilson, a pastor-turned-businessman who specializes in helping charter school applicants navigate the system. Wilson said Sanford has focused too much on playing a supporting role in his professional career, as opposed to a lead role. By contrast, Wilson said he provides a different kind of “leadership demeanor” that is less apt to “go along to get along.”
Sanford, meanwhile, said he is concerned that Wilson’s business dealings place too much emphasis on building new charter schools that cost money as opposed to reforming the current public education system. Wilson said he aims to improve all public schools and to increase choices for parents.
The winner of the primary will go on to represent the district in the Legislature; no other parties fielded candidates.
Fulton has received the backing of education advocates such as the Texas Parent Political Action Committee, while Fallon has amassed a laundry list of supporters from the GOP establishment.
In recent weeks, Fulton’s campaign has accused Fallon of two ethical lapses, including allegedly paying for positive news coverage in a community magazine, and registering to vote last October from a Denton County address where he did not live. Fallon denounced the accusations as “absolute garbage.” He said he paid for an insert in the community magazine, but did not ask the publishers to place his photo on the cover. He also said he registered to vote last fall using a rental property address in Denton County because his family had long intended to move into the district, but their home was still under construction. They moved into the new property by the end of that month.
“So instead of working hard to win votes, they’re just throwing mud,” Fallon said.
Bryan Mayes, a campaign spokesman for Fulton, said his candidate stands by her claims. If elected, he said she would make education a key issue and focus on ethics reform and push for term limits.
The winner of this primary faces Libertarian Rodney Caston in the general election.