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Tea Party, Other Groups Team Up To Build A 'Liberty Movement' And Dominate Texas GOP

Shelley Kofler
A couple wearing shirts in support of a Tea Party challenger attended the "Life, Liberty and Property" rally in Greenville last week.

Nationally, many Tea Party-backed candidates have been losing primary elections. But in Texas, Tea Party candidates are doing well. One big Tea Party organization has joined with other conservative groups. Their goal: becoming the dominant voice in Texas Republican politics. They recently urged North Texas voters to “retire” more sitting Republicans during the May 27 runoff election.      

In a meeting room in a Greenville strip mall filled with rows of folding chairs, the head of the state’s largest pro-life group told activists the enemy in Austin isn’t the minority of Democrats. It’s Republicans who haven’t delivered.

“These guys work for us and if they don’t want to pass pro-life bills, tax cuts, home schooling bills they need to go home once and for all,” Texas Right to Life executive director Jim Graham told a crowd of about 100.

"Life, Liberty and Property"

Graham headlined the “Life, Liberty and Property” rally last week with top honchos from Texas Eagle Forum, Empower Texans, the Texas Home School Coalition and Grassroots America, a powerful Tea Party group run by JoAnn Fleming.

Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News
Jim Graham, the Texas Right to Life executive director, says the "liberty" coalition is targeting Republicans who are not responsive.

“The one thing that scares the daylights out of the establishment ruling class in Austin, Texas, is the Texas liberty movement and they have everything to be scared of,” Fleming said.

Separately, the groups use direct mail, election scorecards and extensive social media networks to promote their political endorsements and legislative goals. Combined, Graham believes they might be the most potent conservative machine in Texas.  

“We have demonstrated in the last election cycle we can remove very powerful, entrenched incumbents when we work together for a common goal,” Graham said.

Working to defeat longtime incumbents

Graham says the groups united to defeat longtime state Sen. John Carona of Dallas and another Republican, state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Carrollton. They’ve backed state Sen. Ken Paxton, who finished first in the GOP primary for attorney general. Some in the group take credit for putting David Dewhurst, the incumbent lieutenant governor, on the ropes as he tries to overtake their pick, Dan Patrick. The runoff election is May 27.

“What we’re looking for is true transparency,” Fleming said. She says the groups have individual efforts but are unified in wanting to preserve personal freedoms and limited government.

For voter Ben Davis, who came to the rally to support the Tea Party opponent to state Sen. Bob Deuell, a Greenville Republican, that means less spending.

“I would like to see them become a little more efficient in their spending of money," Davis said. "Not playing games about balancing the budget."

For Ray Myers, it means controlling the border.

“They’re not all coming over here to work," Myers said. "They’re coming into our country. We don’t know who they are. Terrorism is a very, very vital issue we must address. That scares me for my grandchildren.”

Les Roisum just wants some honesty.

“There’s back-door money, underhanded politics going on, cronyism,” Roisum said. 

Analyst: Tea Party successes could create challenges

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, says the success of this Tea Party-type coalition would create challenges in a growing state that will need to expand its highway system, develop water supplies and prepare to educate more children.

“Institutional business-friendly Republican interests want to see some additional spending on education, access to health care but particularly on infrastructure," Jillson said. "We’re going to need additional resources to manage those problems. The Tea Party will not permit that to happen."

Fleming’s response? Find a way to pay for what’s necessary without increasing the budget. And get rid of the Republicans who won’t do that.

“We have got to fire the fake conservatives in Austin,” Fleming said to a round of applause.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.