Yesterday I asked whether Texas voters would punish those incumbents who approved billions in state education cuts. I didn't even mention the billions of dollars in cuts to health and human services—or that despite these cuts, critical structural revenue problems remain in the state, which means this coming session will be worse. I just wondered whether incumbents would suffer for the session's austere approach.
Well several incumbents suffered—but not in a manner you might expect. Take Rob Eissler, the Republican chair of the Public Education Committee who pushed for some of the big budget cuts. He lost his primary Tuesday night in a big upset. But he didn't lost his seat to a candidate pushing back against cuts. Nope. Eissler lost his seat to a Tea Party insurgent because—get this—Eissler had been too moderate and was too closely aligned with House Speaker Joe Straus.
Nationally the focus may be on the Cruz-Dewhurst Senate race, but it seems insurgencies are alive and well when it comes to pushing the party further toward extremes.
Straus has become a major focus for hard-liners in Texas. Despite the fact that the Speaker presided over one of the most austere budgets of all time, he—and by extension his lieutenants—are all painted with the same "oh-so-moderate" brush. And in Texas, that's a damning thing. While Straus handily beat his own primary challenger, he lost several of his committee chairmen last night—including Eissler. In the meantime, several key Tea Party freshmen—like David Simpson and Charles Perry—fought off moderate challengers. In one race, two sitting representatives, freshmen Tea Partier James White and Straus chair Mike Hamilton, faced one another thanks to a relocation by Hamilton. White, an African American former school teacher, commanded money from the tort-reformers and other key hardline groups—and won handily against the so-called establishment.
Straus faced a brouhaha last session when he sought to be re-elected speaker; hardline groups opposed him and some even questioned his fitness as a non-Christian. (Straus is Jewish.) This session may offer a sequel to the fight, including some anti-Jewish rhetoric; newly elected Jonathan Stickland was quoted at a March Tea Party meeting explaining that Straus must be opposed "because as a Christian, I believe we must call evil evil." Nice.
But interestingly, the far right also suffered some major losses. One longtime representative who has championed anti-immigrant bills and so-called "birther" legislation lost his re-election, as did the infamous Wayne Christian, who's best remembered for his efforts to ban LGBT groups from college campuses and require "Western Civ" classes in college (which he seemed to define more or less as "white studies.") In the meantime, several challengers favored by the pro-education ParentPAC won open seats or at least made run-offs.
Still, in answer to yesterday's question, a good number of the House incumbents punished for cuts seemed to be punished because the cuts weren't big enough. Lucky for the hard-liners, with the present state of the Texas budget they may get to watch even more extreme cutting go into effect next year. After all, who wants to see the consequences for something as crazy as raising revenue?