SOUTHLAKE — Both supporters and detractors of State Rep. Vicki Truitt, a seven-term Republican, agree that her nickname, Bulldog, fits.
Those working for her re-election say she represents her constituents in this cluster of wealthy neighborhoods between Fort Worth and Dallas with relentless determination. For fans of Giovanni Capriglione, the primary challenger, Truitt’s nickname supports their view of her as stubborn and confrontational. They also say she is not conservative enough to represent HD-98, the most Republican district in the largest Republican county in Texas.
Truitt and Capriglione, a private equity manager, are locked in a tight campaign battle, which resembles the 2010 race in which Truitt defeated Capriglione and two other primary opponents.
As in that previous primary, Truitt is playing defense against Tea Party groups and Michael Quinn Sullivan, an influential conservative activist whose Empower Texans organization has painted her as a tax-raising moderate.
Last month, Truitt and state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, filed complaints with the Texas Ethics Commission accusing Sullivan and his group of not having filed required disclosure reports on lobbying and campaign activities. Sullivan dismissed the complaints as a “political stunt.”
In both her move against Sullivan and her campaign advertising, Truitt is playing up her image as someone who never shrinks from a fight. Truitt declined to comment for this story.
Capriglione said voters turned against Truitt in 2009 after she backed an unsuccessful effort to allow some urban counties to ask voters to approve raising local taxes or fees to finance new transportation projects. At the time, Truitt said letting voters decide how to tackle congestion in their communities was important enough that she was ready to “fall on the sword” in order to see the measure pass.
“That really opened the district’s eyes to her liberal record,” Capriglione said.
Capriglione said that if he were elected, the first bill he would file would require lawmakers to improve disclosure of income from public entities, a not-so-subtle reference to a recent article published by a news website alleging that Truitt has a conflict of interest related to contracts between her health consultancy firm and the Tarrant County Hospital District. A campaign spokesman, who selectively answered questions via email, said her work with the district was legal and ethical and began well before she became a legislator.
Truitt, who is supported by several mayors, has hammered her opponent on his connection to an Illinois cemetery that allegedly dug up graves to resell the plots. Her campaign is using a website that it used during the 2010 race that shows an animated version of Capriglione digging up a coffin. Capriglione was vice president at a private equity firm that owned the cemetery, but he said he never worked on that account.
Capriglione’s campaign has multiple websites critical of Truitt. They include vickitruitt.org, which Truitt has denounced as an effort to confuse voters.
“It speaks volumes,” Truitt said in an earlier interview with the Tribune. “You have to wonder about their character."