The Republican primary ballot for the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman was set Monday evening — a week later than expected — with five additional candidates signing up on the final day of filing for the Houston-area congressional seat.
Stockman, R-Friendswood, abruptly withdrew his re-election bid Dec. 9 to launch a primary challenge against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. The timing of Stockman’s switch — which occurred minutes before the filing deadline — prompted the Republican Party of Texas to extend the deadline for the Congressional District 36 race, though under conditions that left some interested candidates unable to enter the race.
Ben Streusand and John Manlove, both of Houston, Robin Riley and Jim Engstrand, both of Seabrook, and Pat Kasprzak of Crosby filed for the seat on Monday. Riley is a former Seabrook mayor. One other Republican, Brian Babin, a dentist and former mayor of Woodville, also took advantage of the deadline extension, filing on Friday. They joined six Republicans who had filed for the seat before the original deadline: Nassau Bay City Councilman John Amdur; Doug Centilli, a longtime chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands; former Liberty County Judge Phil Fitzgerald; Lumberton lawyer Charles "Chuck" Meyer; former Seabrook City Councilman Kim Morrell; and insurance agent Dave Norman.
Democrat Michael “MKC” Cole and Libertarians Robb Rourke and Rodney Veach are also running for the seat.
The filing extension only applied to the Republican Party, and anyone who had already filed for another race could not withdraw to join the CD-36 race. That shut out people like state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, who was interested in running for Stockman’s seat. His district, House District 19, encompasses the northern half of CD-36. Texas Republican Party officials said the decisions were based on state election law.
White criticized Stockman for withdrawing his re-election filing at the last minute. Though most were not aware of Stockman’s decision ahead of time, three of the six original CD-36 candidates — Centilli, Norman and Morrell — said last week they had advance notice that Stockman was planning to withdraw from the race.
“It is unfortunate that Congressman Stockman and some Washington insiders have decided to do D.C.-style power politics and inject them into southeast Texas,” White said.
David Bradley, a member of the State Board of Education, had filed for re-election but, like White, explored switching to the CD-36 race. He expressed frustration that the secretary of state’s office and the Texas Republican Party had interpreted election law as such that he could legally withdraw his earlier SBOE filing but could not join the CD-36 race under the filing deadline extension. He plans to continue with his original plan and run for for re-election.
“I talked to a couple of [state Republican Executive Committee] members, and I had an election attorney looking at it,” Bradley said. “It wasn't worth a food fight.”
Though he doesn’t live in the Houston area, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, criticized the unique rules for candidates filing in the CD-36 race following Stockman’s withdrawal. Johnson wrote on Facebook that he doesn’t believe an incumbent dropping out of a race should merit an extension of the deadline. He described as “patently unfair” the Texas Republican Party’s decision to bar some potential candidates from taking advantage of the filing extension because they had previously filed for another race.
“This is a mess and probably needs a legislative fix in 2015,” Johnson wrote.