Friday, February 28, 2014

The Front Line of Republican Infighting | Last Word

State Rep. Joe Straus of Alamo Heights doesn’t have heavy opposition in Tuesday’s election.

He’s opposed by businessman and Tea Party type Matt Beebe.

Two years ago Straus drubbed Beebe by 26 points, and there’s no reason to think the results will be substantially different this year.

So why is Straus spending more than a million dollars on this election?

The easy answer is: Because he can.

As of his most recent campaign finance report, filed just this week, Straus has $5.8 million in his campaign account.

Raising money isn’t difficult when you are Texas speaker of the House, one of the three most powerful positions in the nation’s second largest state.

Straus has been able to accumulate that much partly because Beebe is the only opponent he has faced since winning a special election in 2005.

Beebe is finding fundraising harder.

He’s raised about $55,000 for this race, and as of Monday’s report, he had $12,000 on hand.

But Straus, in the words of one aide, “Is taking this very seriously.”

In the past six weeks alone he has spent about $600,000 on his campaign, including television advertising.

But the real race, in a sense, is elsewhere.

A couple of high-dollar right-wing political action committees that consider Straus too moderate have made him their target.

But they know Beebe can’t knock him off, so they’re giving him only token support.

Instead, they are giving hundreds of thousands to primary opponents of Straus’ Republican supporters in the House. 

They’ve been at it for two election cycles and haven’t made much progress, but they keep trying.

One is Empower Texas, run by political activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and almost entirely funded by an ultra-conservative oilman named Tim Dunn.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the group and its political action committee have spent nearly $1.1 million in the last month alone.

The group gave about $30,000 to Beebe, but supported the opponent of a more vulnerable Straus backer, Rep. Jim Keffer of Eastland, to the tune of about $200,000.

They spent $145,000 for a phone bank for opponents of Straus allies, and more than a quarter of a million dollars on direct mail, according to the American-Statesman.

The other group joining the anti-Straus fray is Accountability Texas.

In the past, it mainly opposed local school district bond issues.

Now it has jumped into legislative politics after receiving $100,000 from University of Texas regent Wallace Hall and $200,000 from University of Texas System critic Jeff Sandefer.

It’s partly personal.

As speaker of the House, Straus appointed a committee to investigate whether Hall should be impeached for conducting a controversial campaign against UT-Austin President Bill Powers.

The PAC is heavily supporting the same challengers to Straus as Sullivan’s group.

So Straus decided he needed to have the backs of his supporters.

In December he gave $500,000 from his officeholder account to the Texas House Leadership Fund.

Express-News reporter David Saleh Rauf reports that the fund is helping about a dozen Straus supporters in amounts as high as $50,000. 

What’s more, Straus is on the road campaigning for his allies.

One of them, Representative Sarah Davis, is the only Republican in the House to vote against restrictions that have closed abortion clinics in Texas.

Davis, like Straus, represents an affluent urban district.

Hers includes the Medical Center in Houston, where doctors are not keen on legislators who tell physicians how to practice medicine.

It was at a fundraiser for Davis last year that Straus said Texas is a center-right state, not a far-right state.

But he’s showing this election that he understands that the Republican primary won’t be center-right without a fight.

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