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Familiar names spar in Galveston-area state House race

Rep. Wayne Faircloth, a Republican who's held the House District 23 seat for just one term, is hoping to thwart a comeback bid by former Rep. Lloyd Criss.

State Rep. Wayne Faircloth, (l) R-Galveston, and his Democratic challenger, former state Rep. Lloyd Criss.

For the second time in a row, state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, is facing off against a Democrat named Criss.

This time, the challenger is Lloyd Criss, a former Democratic state representative who served in the Texas House from 1979 to 1991. Two years ago, the challenger was Criss’s daughter Susan, a former Galveston County district judge who lost to the Republican in an expensive and closely watched race.

Faircloth is hoping for a repeat of his campaign performance in 2014, when he won House District 23 with 55 percent of the vote. But political observers say he faces two major obstacles this time around: the district’s left-leaning history and the potential fallout from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Faircloth, 63, is the first Republican to serve the district, which includes Galveston and the region east of Houston, since Reconstruction, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Complicating matters this year is Trump, who appears to be underperforming for a Republican presidential hopeful in Texas. Galveston-area Democrats hope Trump’s unpopularity — polls show him neck-and-neck with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Texas — will help propel the elder Criss to victory if traditionally Republican voters stay home or opt to switch parties.

“The top of the ticket is skewing things better than we’ve ever seen before,” said John Young, chairman of the Galveston County Democratic Party.

Faircloth bills himself as a moderate, business-minded conservative with a good track record of fighting for the district, despite his status as a freshman lawmaker. He says his focus in 2017 would be on finding money for public education, higher education and coastal protection from storm surge. He has sought to distance himself from Trump, and he eschews the Tea Party label.

“Our strategy is to focus on our race and our district and not get dragged into the weeds of what other candidates do,” he said. “It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback and criticize from the outside.”

Meanwhile Criss, 75, is lambasting his opponent as an ineffective newcomer and touting his own decade or so of experience at the state Capitol. Criss has sought to paint Faircloth as a radical Republican closely aligned with Trump and other members of the GOP.

“He’s a far right-wing guy,” Criss said. “That’s why I’m running against him; he didn’t do his job.”

Criss said his focus would be on restoring funding for public education and local community colleges while lowering property taxes for homeowners in the district.

“When I served in the Legislature, our highest priority was to fund public education,” he said. He criticized Faircloth in particular for not being willing to dip into the state’s roughly $10 billion Rainy Day Fund to shore up the public education system’s finances.

Faircloth said such a proposal was “uneducated,” arguing that the state had no way of replenishing the short-term cash flow.

Before Faircloth was elected in 2014, Democrat Craig Eiland served in the Texas House for 20 years. Faircloth previously vied for the seat in 2012, during the last presidential election. That year, Faircloth lost with 46 percent of the vote to Eiland’s 54 percent.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said Criss could pull off a “surprise” victory thanks to name identification. In an email, he said Faircloth and other incumbent Republicans were “in jeopardy of a close-quarters fight in a presidential election year that generally boosts turnout but specifically jumps in reaction to Trump.”

Faircloth enjoys a clear fundraising advantage. As of Oct. 11, he had raised more than $112,000 this election cycle and still had about $129,000 cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Criss, on the other hand, had raised about $14,500 and had just under $4,000 cash on hand.

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Politics State government 2016 elections Texas Legislature