KAUFMAN, Texas — It's probably a day Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer will remember for years, whether or not he’s re-elected to represent House District 4 in March.
On March 31, 2015, the Kaufman Republican called his wife to let her know he had an uncomfortable — and very public — exchange on the floor of the Texas House with a Democrat that included details about his being a virgin when he married at age 29.
“[I] said, ‘Hey, we talked about our sexual issue on the floor,’” Spitzer, a doctor, recently recounted from his office at Presbyterian Hospital of Kaufman. “The next day it was in a lot of papers, it was out there.”
The revelation came during debate as Spitzer fought, successfully, to move $3 million in the state budget from HIV and STD prevention efforts to fund abstinence education. The budget conference committee later nixed the amendment, but Spitzer remains proud of standing up for what he believes.
In his freshman term, Spitzer aligned himself with a far-right faction of state Republicans that repeatedly try to outflank their fellow party members on conservative issues. Like them, Spitzer opposed Speaker Joe Straus’s re-election, and he is backed by conservative groups like Empower Texans that rely, in part, on no-compromise scorecards of elected officials to influence voters.
He’s facing a formidable challenge March 1 from Lance Gooden, a Terrell-based business development consultant who held the seat for two terms before losing the 2014 primary to Spitzer by 2 percentage points. The March primary will be the rubber match: Spitzer lost to Gooden in 2012 by about 1,330 votes, or about 9 percentage points. In the conservative district, the winner of the Republican primary effectively earns the seat.
But it’s not Spitzer’s far-right agenda that Gooden said is his opponent’s Achilles' heel. The former lawmaker said he’s on the same side as Spitzer on issues such as voter ID, gun rights, banning sanctuary cities and pro-life legislation.
“This race is not really about who is more conservative or not because, ideologically, we probably have a lot more in common than not,” Gooden said. “This race ... is about who is more effective and who is not. [Spitzer] passed not one single bill.”
While not weighing in on why Spitzer didn’t pass any measures, Gooden said that during his two sessions he sponsored or authored seven bills that became law, including three in his first term.
“Zero of his made it to the floor of the House for debate,” Gooden said.
Spitzer’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for additional comment after his initial interview.
Spitzer outraised Gooden by nearly six figures from July to December 2015, according to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. Spitzer’s haul was about $137,700 to Gooden’s $44,700. But Gooden pointed out that more than $50,000 of Spitzer's money came from Empower Texans, which Gooden said didn’t surprise him. And Gooden said he’s consistently outraised the incumbent when it comes to in-district donations.
The contest will come down to turnout in an election year with a presidential primary that should draw out more voters than the year he was unseated, Gooden predicted.
“There was no turnout at the top of the ticket, [and] it snowed across half the district. Everything that could have gone bad in 2014 did,” he said. “Fast forward to now, and we have a presidential primary that actually means something in Texas.”
Neither camp has paid for polling, and Spitzer said it doesn’t make much sense to. He’d rather spend his time connecting with voters in a personal way and explaining what he is – and has always been – about.
“I am who I am, and I’ve been really open and honest about that. I haven’t changed over the years,” he said. “[Polls are] kind of a waste of money. When [voters] are giving me a check, they’re telling me what they want.”