Former Lawmakers Make Bids to Return to Texas House

Whether they were edged out in 2014 by thin margins or bowed out years ago and had a recent change of heart, several former Texas House members want back under the dome next year.

Nine House seats feature contests that are either rematches from 2014 or feature former lawmakers who took a hiatus. Most will effectively be decided in the March 1 Republican primaries.

Here's a brief summary of the races with a quick glimpse at how much money the candidates raised from individual contributors, political action committees or other organizations between Jan. 1, 2015 and Jan. 21, 2016. (The reports for HD 23 and HD 117 include totals for 2015 only.)

House District 1

The Republican primary is a rematch between state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, and former lawmaker George Lavender. Lavender was first elected to the seat in 2010 when the Republicans toppled Democrats and added to their majority in the Texas House. VanDeaver ousted Lavender in 2014 when he received about 54.3 percent of the vote.

 

The district includes Bowie, Franklin, Lamar and Red River counties and the battle between Lavender and VanDeaver includes a theme central to many GOP races: who can convince voters he or she is the most conservative.

Campaign finance reports indicate VanDeaver has had more success raising money since the beginning of 2015. Through Jan. 21, 2016, the incumbent has hauled in about $93,900 to Lavender’s $58,000.

 

House District 4

This is the rubber match between incumbent Dr. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, and two-term former state Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell. Spitzer edged out Gooden in the Republican primary two years ago by a razor-thin margin, garnering 51.3 percent of the vote. Two years earlier, Gooden had fended off Spitzer with 53.2 percent of the vote.

Gooden told The Texas Tribune recently the race isn’t necessarily about who is more conservative but a bout who can get things done for Kaufman and Terrell counties. Gooden points to Spitzer’s inability to pass a single bill during last year’s 84th Legislature.

“Ideologically, we probably have a lot more in common than not,” Gooden said in January.

Spitzer said he is standing by his conservative roots and sticking to the principles that helped him earn a victory last time around.

“I am who I am, and I’ve been really open and honest about that,” he said last month.

 

The candidates have been able to raise a decent amount of money from individual contributors.

Gooden raised about $73,500 from individual donors from Jan. 1, 2015, through Jan. 21, 2016, and Spitzer raised about 76,000 during the same timeframe. But Spitzer has the edge in group and PAC contributions. Records show Spitzer hauling in $75,400 from groups compared to Gooden’s $11,500. 

Spitzer’s group contributions include at least $50,000 from Empower Texans PAC, a conservative group that aligns itself with conservative causes.

 

House District 23

This contest won’t be decided until November. Democrat Lloyd Criss, who served the last of his six sessions in the Texas House during the 71st legislative session in 1989, is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston. Both hail from Galveston County.

Faircloth was elected in 2014 after longtime Democratic member Craig Eiland didn’t seek reelection. Faircloth won the GOP primary that year with 66 percent of the party vote and later defeated the Democratic challenger with 54.6 percent of the vote.

Current money totals show Faircloth with a significant advantage, but both campaigns have more than six months to pad their coffers. Through 2015, Faircloth had $41,550 in his account to Criss’s $3,600.

 

House District 55

State Rep. Molly White has only served one term in the Texas House, but that was enough for her to gain nationwide attention as one of the Tea Party’s most controversial figures.

Now she’s one of several lawmakers facing challengers who simply argue they can do a better job. White is facing former state Rep. Hugh Shine, who served from 1986 to 1990, in a hotly contested primary where abortion and border security guide most of the debate chatter.

In a candid campaign mailer sent to voters in January, White detailed how she became an anti-abortion activist after terminating two pregnancies in her 20s.

But Shine says his time in the Texas National Guard gives him more on-the-ground experience than most lawmakers with border security.

“I’ve flown numerous times from El Paso to Brownsville, flying those drug interdiction missions with law enforcement,” he told the Tribune. “I think the biggest difference [between the candidates] is the fact that I have been there.”

From January 2015 to Jan. 21, 2016, White was able to out raise Shine by about $30,000. She’s hauled in $208,600 to his $178,300. White’s funding includes about $52,000 from Empower Texans PAC, which aligns itself with the far-right faction of the state’s Republican Party.

Jack Hilliard, a Central Texas beer distributor, also donated at least $50,000 to White’s campaign.

 

House District 75

After the 82nd Legislature ended in 2012, El Paso County Democrat Inocente “Chente” Quintanilla decided to leave Austin after a decade and run for a county commissioner seat representing the far east reaches of the county.

He lost that race in 2012 and sat out 2014. But now he has his sights set on his old seat and its current occupant, state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint. Quintanilla said Gonzalez hasn't proven she can get things done for the district the way he used to. Gonzalez said her challenger is just bored and misses the Austin way of life.

She notes that Texas Monthly called him out four times in his five sessions for being a lackluster member. But Quintanilla brushed aside the criticism and said it’s just a part of being in politics.

The money and in-kind contributions have been flowing pretty well in this race. Gonzalez has raised about $132,665, including about $79,500 from individual contributors. Quintanilla has hauled in $109,425, more than $100,000 from Texans for Education Reform, a political action committee that lobbies for the growth of online education and charter-school expansion.

 

House District 84

Former Republican lawmaker Jim Landtroop was first elected in 2010 and represented 16 counties in West Texas, he didn't survive a runoff in 2012 after redistricting drastically changed his seat.

Now he’s back looking to dethrone incumbent John Frullo, R-Lubbock, who has served in the House since 2010. Landtroop, who is running to the right of Frullo, boasts on his Facebook page that he “resisted” House Speaker Joe Straus and his “regime.”

Frullo, whom Straus appointed to chair the House Insurance Committee, touts his own list of conservative accomplishments on his website, including fighting Obamacare as the chairman of the committee, voting to increase border security and supporting property tax cuts.

Frullo is winning the money game in this one, with his $185,000 raised dwarfing Landtroop’s $73,237. 

Reports show Empower Texans PAC has donated at least $25,000 to Landtroop’s campaign, while Texas for Lawsuit Reform has doled out the same amount to Frullo’s camp.

 

House District 115

The rematch between Republicans Bennett Ratliff and Matt Rinaldi features another battle of the conservatives. But in this one Ratliff, who held the seat for one term after winning the 2012 election, isn’t running to the right of his challenger. Instead, he’s hoping voters will see through what he calls Rinaldi’s inability to work with other members to get results.

“They realize there is a stark contrast between my record of accomplishing conservative results, and my opponent’s record of just voting no,” Ratliff told the Tribune recently.

Rinaldi, the self-proclaimed “movement conservative,” said voters already spoke two years ago after they realized they didn’t have a true Republican representing them in Austin.

“The voters replaced Ratliff last time because he voted with Democrats more than Republicans,” he said.

The candidates raised nearly equal amounts from individual contributors during 2015 and January 2016. Rinaldi boasts $111,000 to Ratliff’s $110,870. But the incumbent has a clear edge in support from entities, with about $205,600 to Ratliff’s $66,500.

Dorotha Ocker is running on the Democratic side of the ticket, so the House race won’t be officially decided until November. But the GOP primary in this heavily conservative district will most likely name the winner.

 

House District 117

This race will also be decided in November after current state Rep. Rick Galindo, R-San Antonio, didn’t draw a challenger. He’ll likely face former Democratic lawmaker Philip Cortez, a former San Antonio city council member who held the seat for one term.

Cortez faces real estate agent Carlos Antonio Raymond in the Democratic primary. Galindo won the 2014 general election after earning about 52.7 percent of the vote. Raymond is an Army veteran and immigrant from Panama.

Records show that Cortez has raised about $37,850 from individuals and about $32,250 from groups and organizations. Galindo has the slight edge over Cortez in group donations, having collected about $37,600. But he’s only hauled in about $10,000 from individual supporters.

 

House District 144

Democrat Mary Ann Perez wants back in Austin after serving only one term representing part of Harris County. She was ousted by Republican Gilbert Peña, R-Pasadena, who is unopposed in the GOP primary.

But Perez’s bid to challenge Pena again must first go through two challengers on the Democratic side. They include Cody Ray Wheeler, a U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran. He’s raised $21,500 from groups and entities, compared to Perez’s $10,250. But he only has $3,400 from individual contributors, compared to Perez’s $10,700.

Also in the hunt is Bernie Aldape III, who also served in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He’s hauled in about $15,200 from individuals and about $1,500 from other groups.

 

Graphics by Lauren Flannery. Morgan Smith and Edgar Walters contributed to this report.

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