Updated: Feb 18, 2020
The primaries in Texas for the Republicans and Democrats start today, February 18, 2020 with the start of early voting. (Absentee voters are already voting.) Primary election day is two weeks from that, on Tuesday, March 3. This is a “horse race” report on the Texas House primary races from a liberty perspective.
I focus on state and county offices over federal races because I figure that as an individual, I have very little chance of influencing what happens in DC, but that I have a fighting chance of having my voice heard and the liberty policies I want to see implemented with Texas offices and the Texas legislature. Because on the main, most Democrats are not liberty oriented, I will focus this article on the Republican primary races. Where it makes sense, I will include in the analysis the filed Libertarian Party, Green Party, and independent candidates, as well.
The GOP Texas House races can be broken down by the following. Races that will be swing districts in the 2020 general election and safe GOP seats with challengers. Within the swing districts, there are two types, those currently held by Democrats (especially the twelve that flipped to Democrat in 2018) and those seats currently held by Republicans that are targeted by Democrats for flipping in the 2020 general.
Within each category, whether the incumbent is running again, or it is an open seat is important, and I will discuss that. If the GOP primary is uncontested, I will not discuss the race at all unless there is a third party candidate or independent filed that can impact the general election.
THE SWING DISTRICTS
Seats Held by Republicans, Targeted by the Democrats
The Texas Democratic Party has announced 22 Texas House seats held by Republicans that it is targeting.
By county, those are:
Tarrant: Four current GOP races are targeted in Tarrant County. In two, the incumbents are running again, neither of whom face GOP challengers. Veteran Tony Tinderholt and author of the Abortion Abolition Bill in the last session (HD 94 in SE Tarrant) faces both a Democrat challenger and a likely repeat active Libertarian challenge in the general from Jessica Pallett. Craig Goldman (HD 97 in SE Tarrant) will likely face a repeat Libertarian challenger, Rod Wingo and a new Democratic challenger.
In 2018, Jonathan Stickland, arguably the most liberty-oriented member of the Texas House, held his seat with a plurality, receiving less than 0.39% of the vote more than his Democratic challenger. (In 2019, Stickland passed the bill that eliminated red light cameras and introduced the constitutional carry bill that Speaker Dennis Bonnen killed.) He is retiring, however, leaving a contested 3-way GOP race that will likely face a new Libertarian challenger in addition to the winner of the contested Democratic primary. This will be one of the most interesting races in Texas not only in the primary, but in the general.
Stickland has endorsed Jeff Cason to replace him. Cason has also received the endorsement of the substantive grassroots endorsing organizations, including Right to Life, Values Action, Empower Texans, and the Texas Home School Coalition. Jeff Griffin is the clear establishment candidate in the race with endorsements by the faux Alliance for Life, Texas Realtors, and Texas Association of Business. Cason is the odds on favorite to win, especially since he has plenty of cash on hand, fueled by the more principled wealthy donors in the state.
The other targeted open Tarrant seat is HD 96 in south Tarrant, the seat currently held by the retiring Bill Zedler. David Cook is the only GOP candidate. He will face a Democrat (uncontested in the primary) and likely Libertarian Nelson Range in the general.
Harris: Four GOP seats are targeted in Harris County. The hottest one is HD 138, which runs along the north side of Katy Freeway from Loop 610 pretty far west. This is the seat being vacated by Dwayn Bohac. Three candidates are on the GOP ballot, but maddeningly, only two are eligible to get the nomination. The two eligible candidates are Claver Kamau-Imani and Lacey Hull. This will be one of the most watched races in the state.
Claver Kamau-Imani is the owner and founding host of RagingElephantsRadio.com. He has decades of experience as a hard core liberty activist. He Is endorsed by Texas Right to Life and the Texas Grassroots Conservative Coalition. Claver has conservative connections all over Texas, and by temperament has the strongest chance of becoming the liberty lightening rod replacement for Jonathan Stickland. Claver has also been pushing for minority involvement in the GOP for decades. Lacey Hull is an in-the-trenches conservative activist, as well. She has received two establishment endorsements, one from Governor Abbott, and the other from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Claver has made a BIG deal of how damning the TLR endorsement is in a GOP primary race. He has also been a vocal critic of the squishiness of the governor on a host of issues from guns to government funded pre-K, so the more establishment Abbott rejection of Claver is no surprise.
The fly in the ointment of HD 138 GOP primary is the botched candidacy of Josh Flynn, former Harris County School Board Trustee and son of sitting East Texas House member Dan Flynn. Because he did not properly and timely resign his seat on the school board before filed to run for the Texas House, he has been declared ineligible to be the nominee of the GOP if he wins. But sadly and confusingly, he will still be on the ballot.
Dennis Paul (HD 129 in SE Harris) faces firefighter Ryan Lee in the GOP primary. With his firefighter background, he is backed by the AFL-CIO and the Texas American Federation of Teachers, but he is woefully underfunded. Paul has a mix of establishment and grassroots endorsements. There is not third party challenger in this race.
Jim Murphy (HD 133 in the district that includes the Galleria and Memorial areas of Harris) has no GOP challenger, but his general election race will likely include a Libertarian challenger (James Harren) in addition to the Democrat. Sarah Davis, the other Harris challengee has no GOP or third party challengers. I do not think that anyone would dispute that Murphy and Davis are solid establishment members of the Texas House.
Fort Bend: Two open seats are the target in Fort Bend County, HD 26 in Central NW Fort Bend being vacated by Rick Miller and HD 28, in North Fort Bend (Katy area) by the outgoing Appropriations Chair John Zerwas. Zerwas had resigned rather than retired, triggering a special election that received national attention when Gary Gates handily won the interim seat in a recent runoff. The wealthy Gates is facing an underfunded challenger, Schel Hammel, in the GOP primary and there will likely be a rematch in the general of the special election runoff between Democrat Eliz Markowitz and Gary Gates.
In the HD 26 race to replace Miller, Matthew Morgan has received Miller’s endorsement in a 3-way race between Morgan, Jacey Jetton, and Leonard Chan. Jetton has an order of magnitude funds on hand advantage against the other two candidates, having received endorsements from the establishment.
Dallas: Neither Morgan Meyer (HD 108 in Highland Park) nor Angie Chen Button (HD 112 in far NE Dallas County), the two remaining Republicans in the Texas House from Dallas County, have GOP challengers, but both have Libertarian Party challengers. In addition to the Democrat winner out of the field of three Democratic primary candidates, Meyer will likely face Libertarian Ed Rankin, who has run active Libertarian campaigns for Congress in the past. Chen Button will likely face Libertarian Shane Newsome.
Collin: Neither of the targeted Matt Shaheen (HD 66 in SE Collin) nor Jeff Leach (HD 67 just east of HD 66) have GOP challengers. But Shaheen has the likelihood of facing a Libertarian and a Green nominee in addition to the winner of the Democratic primary. Shawn Jones, the Libertarian in the race ran an active Libertarian campaign for Congress in 2018.
Denton: Lynn Stucky (HD 64 in Central to NW Denton) has no GOP challenger, but will likely face Libertarian Rick Routh in addition to the Democrat.
Bexar: Steve Allison of HD 121 in north Bexar County is targeted, too, but has no GOP challenger. He has one announced independent challenger. Allison took the retiring Speaker Joe Straus’ seat in 2018.
Seats Held by Democrats that flipped from Republican in 2018
Harris County: Mike Schofield lost his three way race in 2018 in HD 132 in far west Harris County by 113 votes. He is running again in 2020, but faces a GOP challenger backed by the establishment. I considered Schofield one of the brightest and most independent members of the Texas House. Schofield has been backed by many grassroots organizations and by his old standby from the olden days, the increasingly establishment Texans for Lawsuit Reform. His challenger, Angelica Garcia, is backed the quintessential establishment Associated Republicans, the faux Alliance for Life, and the establishment Greg Abbott. There is not third party candidate in the race, so unlike 2018, there will be a 2-way R v. D race in the general. This is a race to watch in the primary and general.
In HD 135 in the Jersey Village-Cypress area in NW Harris County, two GOP candidates face off. Attorney Justin Ray is the establishment candidate that will likely defeat the underfunded Merrilee Rosene Beazley. The winner will face repeat Libertarian challenger Paul Bilyeu and the Democrat ranked the most liberal in Austin in 2019, Jon Rosenthal.
Travis County: The GOP primary in western Travis County HD 47 has five strong contestants to challenge Democrat Vikki Goodwin. Whoever wins the GOP primary, which almost certainly will have a runoff, will face Goodwin and likely Libertarian Michael Clark.
The GOP race includes three attorneys (Jennifer Fleck, Aaron Reitz, and Jenny Roan Forgey), a police officer (Justin Berry), and a former Austin City Councilman and mechanical engineer, Don Zimmerman. At least three, if not four of this field can be considered liberty candidates. Zimmerman is a longtime member of the Republican Liberty Caucus and was a supporter of Ron Paul. Jessica Fleck, Aaron Reitz, and Jenny Forgey probably fit that label, too. Reitz has received the endorsement of Young Conservatives of Texas, Right to Life, and the Texas Home School Coalition. The quality of the candidates in this race are what you would hope to see in all races, but this is a rare and much watched race in 2020.
Hays County: HD 45 which also includes Blanco County has a vigorous 3 way race in the GOP primary. Carrie Isaac, the wife of former State Rep Jason Isaac (and current employee of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation) has the most cash on hand and has the endorsement of Right to Life, Texas Homeschool Coalition, and Values Action, as well as the establishment Texas Association of Business. Bud Wymore also has lots of cash and the endorsement of the establishment cover group, Alliance for Life. Austin Talley is running a feisty, but less well funded grassroots race. The ultimate winner will likely face a Green Party nominee and likely, incumbent Erin Zweiner (who has a Democratic primary opponent).
Denton County: Kronda Thimesch and Nancy Cline face each other for the HD 65, SE Denton County, GOP primary. Incumbent Democrat Michelle Beckley has a Democratic challenger, but there is no third party candidate in the race. Kronda Thimesch has received the endorsement of Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Governor Abbott and has more cash on hand.
Williamson County: HD 52 and HD 136 flipped Democrat in 2018. Neither GOP primary is contested, and neither is likely to defeat incumbent Democrats, James Talarico and John Bucey. Bucey, who will likely face Libertarian Brian Elliott as well as Republican Mike Guevara, spoke against the Republican backed bill that made it more difficult for third party candidates to be on the ballot in 2019.
Dallas County: Five seats flipped from R to D in 2018 in Dallas County. Only one of those GOP primaries has a contest, HD 102 in North Central Dallas County. Linda Koop is the only repeat candidate for the GOP in the five flipped seats. She is well funded and backed by the establishment against the underfunded and relatively unknown, Rick Walker.
Long Shot Open Democratic Seat in West Texas - HD 74
Democratic State Rep Poncho Nevarez was already infamous before he was caught dropping an envelope embossed with the State seal containing cocaine at the state airport in late 2019. He was responsible for having panic buttons installed at the state capitol because he complained about Texans lobbying for gun rights in 2015. At the end of the 2017 session, he almost got in a fight with Matt Rinaldi. And, then in 2019, he had been appointed to a chairmanship by Dennis Bonnen to kill constitutional carry.
Because of the cocaine incident, HD 74 which runs for over 800 miles along the border from Nevarez' home county of Maverick all the way through Del Rio and Big Bend to Hudspeth County, taking in Jeff Davis, Pecos, Reeves, Culberson, and the least populated county in Texas, Loving, the seat is now open. Two Republicans are vying for the chance to win it for the GOP.
Residents of the district say that businessman Ruben Falcon, former mayor of Fort Stockton is the principled conservative in the race, facing attorney Robert Garza, former mayor of Del Rio. The winner will face one of three Democrats in their primary.
Hot Open Seats
Brazoria and Matagorda Counties: In the crowded GOP primary to replace the disgraced Speaker Dennis Bonnen in HD 25, only one of the five candidates, Rhonda Seth, had the courage to take on the powerful and intimidating Bonnen when everyone thought he was going to run again. All the others jumped in after Bonnen announced he would not be running in 2020. Seth has received the endorsement of Texas Right to Life and just as importantly in his home district, Ron Paul. The clear establishment candidate is Troy Brimage with the endorsements and money to show for it.
In HD 60 that starts at Hood County and meanders west taking in, to mention a few, Palo Pinto, Eastland, and Stephenson Counties, the race to replace Mike Lang, the retiring head of the Freedom Caucus is a hot 4-way race. The clear liberty candidate is Jon Francis. He is probably the most well funded Texas House candidate, coming from a wealthy liberty-oriented family. He also has racked up most of the true grassroots organizations in Texas. His establishment challenger is Glenn Rogers. Rogers has said he was opposed to constitutional carry and to ending tax-funded lobbying. Look for big things from HD 60 and Jon Francis.
In HD 10 just south and southeast of Dallas County, there is a three-way race to replace the outgoing incumbent. The establishment endorsed Jake Ellzey faces a well-funded Ryan Pitts and a relatively inactive Zack Rader. There is no Democrat in the race, but Matt Savino is going after his second Libertarian run.
Liberty Challengers to GOP Incumbents
In Denton County’s NE HD 106, a rock-solid veteran, James Trombley has taken on freshman incumbent, Jared Patterson, who has disappointed many of the grassroots groups that supported him in 2018.
In NorthEast Texas HD 2, Bryan Slaton is a very well-funded and liberty challenger to Dennis Bonnen’s fellow bank director, Dan Flynn. Slaton has lots of grassroots endorsements, too. Longtime Representative Flynn has all the establishment endorsements. Tea Party founder Doc Collins is also in the race, so this will likely go to a runoff. It is one of the more likely upsets of GOP incumbents in the primary this season.
In Central West Texas HD 59, two grassroots challengers are taking on establishment incumbent, J.D. Sheffield. Deep-pocketed, self-funding rancher Cody Johnson is making a splash in the race. And Shelby Slawson is holding her own with the Right to Life and Young Conservatives of Texas endorsement. Look for a runoff that could take out the incumbent, here.
In the NE part of Harris County HD 127, one of the most liberal, establishment Republicans in the House, Dan Huberty is being challenged ineffectively by Dwight Ford in the GOP primary. There is no Democrat in the race, but two Libertarians, Neko Antoniou and Scott Ford are competing for the Libertarian nomination in their convention to challenge Huberty. Scott Ford exercised a very vigorous Libertarian effort against Huberty in 2016.
In Fort Bend, Wharton, and Jackson Counties in HD 85, Robert Boettcher and Abolaji Ayobami are taking long shots on long time establishment incumbent, Phil Stephenson. There is a Libertarian in the race, too.
In another NE Texas challenge in HD 9, Mark Williams is running a hard grassroots campaign against establishment incumbent Chris Paddie. Because of the serious mismatch in funding, this is a very long shot for Williams.
In Victoria County’s HD 30, Vanessa Hicks-Callaway is tilting at a long shot challenge to long term, establishment backed, Representative Geanie Morrison. No other party has a candidate in this race.
In West Texas HD 72, valiant, but underfunded liberty warrior, Lynette Lucas, is taking on the longest of shots against establishment backed Drew Darby. There are no other party’s candidates in this race.
Establishment Challenge to GOP Liberty Incumbent
In Harris County in HD 128, liberty hero, Briscoe Cain is being challenged by the establishment-backed Robert Hoskins, but Cain is the likely winner that will face a Democrat, but not any third party candidates in the general.