Dan Patrick And Tea Party Candidates Put Texas GOP at Crossroads

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The Texas GOP has finally formalized its ticket for the fall of 2014 and it's looking more like the tea party from Alice in Wonderland than its namesake in Boston 241 years ago. Even conservative columnist William Murchison wrote in the American Spectator that, “Dan Patrick-Tea Party-Club for Growth style in Texas Republican circles is more about noise than know-how.”

The winning campaign formula was quite simple: go heavy on buzzwords and stay light on policy. But, that makes sense in the GOP primary where a candidate's conservatism is measured by his skepticism of the government.   And I say “his” because there is not a single woman on the GOP's statewide ballot.

But these things don't take place in a vacuum and as the chasm between social conservatives (whose rhetoric is used to win GOP Primaries) and business conservatives, can no longer be ignored. The tough talk on immigration from the GOP's victorious runoff candidates led by Patrick threatens the Texas agriculture industry and has the business community undoubtedly worried.

You don't have to take my word for it see what the Texas Farm Bureau has to say below the jump…Even the candidate for Ag Commissioner, Sid Miller says he is against a pathway to citizenship, while the Texas Farm Bureau contends that:

“Eighty-five percent of the agricultural labor that goes on in the state of Texas … is done by either undocumented or illegally documented people…If and when that labor supply is not there, that production simply goes out of business.” -Steve Pringle, legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau.

You hear that Texas? GOP Primary voters, about 4% of the registered voters in the state, just nominated anti-business candidates and Dan Patrick has called that a “mandate.”

Patrick at the helm of the Texas Senate is a frightful image to those who value long standing traditions of bi-partisanship in the state's upper chamber. The 2/3rds rule and any Democratic Committee Chairs could go the way of the dinosaur — that's of course if you believe in dinosaurs.

Patrick who is a conservative radio host turned Tea Party politician whose Republican colleagues have called a “pathological liar” and a “snake oil salesman” seemed ready to say whatever it takes to win. He may not promote evolution but his rhetoric on immigration sure has evolved. He started winning over Tea Party voters by focusing his campaign almost entirely on securing the border (a federal responsibility) and eliciting support to “stop the illegal invasion.” Fast forward to his victory speech aimed at general election voters and he says:

“Before you can get someone's vote, you have to respect them enough to go talk with them and explain who you are…It won't be overnight, but it's going to start tomorrow morning.”

Clearly he thinks Hispanics haven't been listening so far. Unfortunately the turnout numbers for Hispanics, particularly in Texas, shows that he may be right.

His chief opponent Leticia Van de Putte aims to change that. She is a pro-business, pro-veteran, Latina from San Antonio. She wasted no time letting everyone know that she was ready for Dan Patrick.

“Dan Patrick's my-way-or-the-highway attitude is why he earned a spot as one of Texas Monthly's Worst Legislators in 2013…No matter what Dan throws at me, I'll be ready. He can't distort my strong record of fighting for Texas families and businesses.” – Leticia Van de Putte

The race for Attorney General pitted Tea Party darling Senator Ken Paxton against State Representative Dan Branch who was all but a running deadman after receiving the scarlet letter “M” for moderate. Even after being fined by the Texas State Securities Board for violating the Texas Securities Act and losing major endorsements Paxton was able to win out. It seems as if skepticism of the media runs as deep as skepticism of the government these days in the GOP primary. Yes, they have been trained well to know that when the “liberal media” (read, “media”) attacks a “conservative” he must be the real deal.

And so it seems unless Democrat Sam Houston can harness the power of his own namesake that Texas could have an AG that doesn't know, understand, or possibly even care what the law actually says.

The race for Ag Commissioner saw another Tea Party candidate bring down a moderate Republican in flames. State Representative Sid Miller is about as unapologetic as they come and while Greg Abbott tried to distance himself from his connect to Ted Nugent, Miller champions him as his campaign treasurer. Miller will face Democrat Runoff winner Jim Hogan in November. Hogan who says he has been studying for the job the last 6 years, has been a dairy farmer for the last 30.

Rounding out the Primary runoff and bucking the trend of Tea Party domination was the winner of the Texas Railroad Commissioner Runoff Election, Ryan Sitton. A common thread was still present however — a conservative businessman being harshly criticized by the media over ethical concerns. Sitton, who owns and operates “a company that has served technically the oil and gas industry,” which the Railroad Commission is tasked to regulate, used the connection as an asset that would allow him to bring experience to the office.

Sitton will face Democrat Steve Brown who, “believe[s]that this agency can once again effectively operate as it was intended- to facilitate energy production while also protecting the interests of all Texans.” — good luck Steve — Sitton is backed by the industry to wish to regulate with an even hand.

Texas Democrats who have focused on an inclusive message must seize on the extreme positions of these Tea Party candidates in order to become competitive — otherwise it may be that it is Texans that have a problem of taxation without representation.

You can follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard.

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