Incumbents usually have the advantage over opponents, especially a political novice. But Travis Clardy, a first-time candidate and lawyer from Nacogdoches, is giving state Rep. Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, a real challenge after the longtime legislator's district was redrawn. Only a 166-vote margin separated the two candidates in the Republican primary in May.
"I don't think it's very surprising when you look at the redistricting," said Steven Galatas, a political science professor at Stephen F. Austin University.
Nacogdoches, Clardy's hometown, was drawn into Hopson’s district last legislative session. The six-term legislator now must introduce himself to a new group of voters while hanging onto his supporters as his challenger continually questions his allegiance to the GOP. Hopson and Clardy emerged as the lead candidates among three who ran in May. Now they are battling to win the July 31 runoff.
Hopson, who was a Democrat for his first five terms, took more than 60 percent of the votes in Cherokee and Rusk counties, areas he currently represents. But he got only 25 percent of the votes in Nacogdoches County, where Clardy came out ahead.
Clardy said that Hopson is a “flip-flopping and wishy-washy" career politician who has not provided “real direction or leadership" during his time at the Legislature.
“I think there’s a new desire to see a new face in there,” Clardy said. “We need leadership when it comes to education, when it comes to water, when it comes to energy."
Hopson said Clardy lacks the “knowledge and foresight” needed to serve the district, and he rejected the notion that he is a career politician. Instead, he said he considers himself a "career pharmacist." He sold his pharmacy to CVS Caremark but still works as a pharmacist in Jacksonville. His father, who served as president of the Lions Club, and his mother, who served as a Parent Teacher Association and Pilot Club presdient, he said, taught him the value of public service.
Former Republican state Sen. Bill Ratliff, who served as lieutenant governor when Hopson was first elected, said he supports Hopson and did not know Clardy. Hopson, he said, wasn't flashy or outspoken but worked the system and took reasonable positions.
“Just because they’ve been there a while, I don’t think that’s any reason to throw them out. In fact, we need some people who have some experience,” Ratliff said.
And Jim Sartwelle, public policy director for the Texas Farm Bureau, said Hopson's voting in the House remained in support of agriculture even after he changed parties.
“He stood with agriculture, and we have no reason not to stand with him,” Sartwelle said.
Since the primary, Hopson received an endorsement from the Texas Parent PAC, adding to a list of endorsements that includes Attorney General Greg Abbott, the National Rifle Association, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and Texas Alliance for Life. House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has also contributed to his campaign.
Clardy and his supporters, though, say that Hopson is not a true conservative.
“That race was really, from our perspective, a pretty simple one,” said Tony McDonald, senior vice chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas. “Chuck Hopson, for all intents and purposes, is a moderate Democrat, not a Republican.”
Clardy has been endorsed by the Young Conservatives of Texas, the Texas Home Coalition, Concerned Women for America, former Republican Party of Texas Chairwoman Cathie Adams and outgoing Republican state Rep. Wayne Christian, who currently represents Nacogdoches.
Both candidates are preparing an agenda for the upcoming legislative session if elected. Hopson said he’ll work to ensure that federal health care reform does not overpower the state’s budget, to continue to develop water and transportation plans and to create more jobs in the area. Clardy said he’ll work to move away from the standardized STAAR test, which he called “an abject failure,” and try to give local school administrators more control.
The winner of the July 31 runoff will likely take office in January, because there is no Democratic candidate for the November general election.