Politics & Government

‘Not worth my time’: Conservative Republicans sour on Texas incumbents in 2020 election

Texas lawmakers this year touted their work on key measures for the state — property tax reform, school finance, school safety and the budget.

But that wasn’t enough for some Texans.

They wanted stronger election laws, deeper property tax cuts, fewer gun restrictions and more.

Now the effect of what was done, or not done, may be felt next year at the polls.

“There are consequences for their behavior while in Austin,” Julie McCarty, who heads the NE Tarrant Tea Party, told the Star-Telegram in an email. “Typically, politicians believe that they can smooth things over and get a pass when they get home.

“And a lot of times that’s true because we don’t expect to be successful on every issue that is important to us. But when we got nothing and they made nothing but excuses and then trash-talk us, that really changes the game don’t you think?”

Some conservatives have criticized the Legislature and new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen for not moving forward plans to bolster gun laws and crack down more on abortion.

“They aren’t worth responding to,” Bonnen told reporters as the session was ending. “The reality of it is, if we passed every pro-life bill filed in the history of the state, they would say we had not done enough.

“You will never please or appease those folks and I’m sure as hell not going to waste my time trying.”

Now, McCarty said neither she nor her influential group will help incumbent lawmakers seek re-election next year.

“Not worth my time when the returns yield nothing,” she posted on Facebook. “Open to new candidates but I’ll be picky.”

This could affect politicians in Tarrant County next year, where voters are expected to turn out in large numbers because of the presidential election.

“The tea party, or ultra conservative, folks in the party want to hold to an uncompromising line and felt the session was too moderate in tone,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “Meanwhile, the more moderate Republicans saw their party’s margins of victory decline in 2018 and think the Republican tent needs to be a bit larger if they are going to remain the dominant party in the long run.

“It’s an important battle because Democrats are looking to make more gains next year, and they might if the Republicans become too conservative for swing voters.”

Tea party concerns

McCarty said she’s disappointed more GOP priorities weren’t addressed in this session, since both chambers are guided by Republicans and hold Republican majorities.

Some had hoped for a smaller budget, strict election laws and a measure preventing taxpayer-funded lobbyists from working for cities and counties.

“Conservatives are more grumpy about this session that usual because, although Democrats made major leaps politically in 2019, Republicans still have majorities in both chambers,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“This session and next may be the last chance Republicans have to make major policy changes if Democrats take the House back in 2020 and many conservative groups know it.”

McCarty notes that none of the conservatives being criticized are her enemies.

“I still agree with them the majority of the time,” she said. “It would not take a lot for them to win the people over next session. Hopefully the lines of communication are still open.

“But it’s because they have so much potential that I am the most disappointed in them.”

She did stress that she has no problem supporting state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, because she said he upheld his promises.

“I know that’s why the others get mad at him,” McCarty wrote. “They are jealous that he is the people’s hero! If only they would learn that they could just as easily be our heroes as well. Just vote with integrity. Be who they campaigned on. Why is that so difficult?”

Rick Barnes encourages people to reach out to their elected officials to ask questions and understand why the session turned out as it did.

Then it’s time to move forward, together, said Barnes, treasurer for the Tarrant County Republican Party.

“No matter what happens, I hope Republicans will get behind the members of their party for the general election,” he said.

There should be no concern about Republicans staying home or tuning out next year’s election, JoAnn Fleming, who heads the largest statewide Tea Party group, told the Star-Telegram.

“We have no intention of giving up,” she said. “There’ll be no walking off the field.”

Political fallout

Bonnen has said there will be retribution against any House member who campaigns against a House colleague for the 2020 election.

Last year, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, for instance, said he bought a passenger van and hired a block-walking staff that traveled around the state helping other House candidates.

Among those he helped: Susanna Dokupil, who challenged incumbent Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston, a fellow Republican Stickland had sniped with on social media.

Davis won her re-election bid.

Bonnen said he will penalize any House member who campaigns against an incumbent colleague in the next legislative session, if he’s chosen to serve a second term as House Speaker.

That, he said, applies to Republicans and Democrats alike.

It’s the only way to keep the lower chamber working together to help Texas, he said.

“If members of the Legislature are out campaigning against each other, you then don’t accomplish things … because you bring the elections into the legislative process and you don’t get over the wounds and the battles,” Bonnen said, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“And then people turn into Washington and you’re simply here to legislate on politics, not on policy and not on accomplishment of success.”

Related stories from McClatchy DC

Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.