Primary Opponents: An Empty Threat?

That’s the title of a blog post written last week by the Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka. It seems that he disagrees with the assertion from my last post that a vote for Speaker Joe Straus will go a long way to ensuring that Republican Representatives will face a primary challenger next year.

Here is his rather apt assessment of the attitude conservatives are holding regarding the Speaker race (I enjoy that he terms us “the Resistance”):

This is the argument of the Resistance: that it is safer to fight Straus in the streets of Paris than to sip wine with him in the sidewalk cafes and make yourself a target. Those who fail to join the Resistance will be singled out for retribution in the form of a primary opponents in 2012, recruited by the Resistance.

Burka goes on to talk about how it’s a stupid idea to go against Speaker Straus and that it’s really conservatives who go against Straus that should be worried about primary challengers.

The short story is that Burka is flat out wrong. He’s judging the game using an outdated rulebook. In pre-TEA Party days his arguments might have had more merit but in the face of the changing political landscape in Texas they are far off the mark.

The threat of primary challengers for Straus-Lackeys is a very real one. While many legislators are still viewing the Speaker battle as an insiders-only decision, we Texans are exercising our newly recognized right to give input into the matter. As with other legislative decisions, spitting in the face of your constituents has consequences and one of them is an increasing probability of a primary challenge.

Here are three original Straus supporters who well understand the threat of a primary challenge:

Tommy Merritt – Chair of Public Safety: Like Paul Burka is saying about next cycle, nobody thought Merritt could be beaten. The “Resistance” stood up however and kicked Merritt to the curb. In his place is a fantastic Representative-Elect, David Simpson.

Brian McCall – Chair of Calendars: In the face of a formidable primary challenge he decided to retire and pursue employment that isn’t dependent on conservatives putting up with him. Rep-Elect Van Taylor is waiting in the wings to replace him this next session.

Delwin Jones – Chair of Redistricting: Another casualty to the Resistance. Rep-Elect Charles Perry is taking his place.

Every one of these incumbents was supported by Straus and each of them lost campaigns in which the funding was seriously lopsided in their favor. They betrayed their constituents and were shown the door. In contrast, each of these newly elected representatives have learned from the misdeeds of their predecessors and are standing with Ken Paxton in his bid for the Speaker’s chair. They are listening to their constituents proving their conviction early on by standing for principle instead of the status quo.

Not every primary challenger that the Resistance put forward won but many long-term incumbents were forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars against poorly financed insurgents that were fueled by more shoe leather and conviction than dollars and consultants. More challengers will step forward next year and many incumbents who squeaked by this time won’t fare so well in 2012.

Today the rules are different. Looking forward into ’11 and ’12 we will have a well-organized Resistance, more qualified and trained candidates to run and a growing mandate from the people of Texas for a conservative voice. Those who would thumb their nose at their constituents do so at their own peril. Whether Paul Burka likes it or not, the threat of a primary challenge is not an idle musing. It’s reality.