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Will Establishment Republicans Strike Back? Here Are Texas House Races To Watch

Texas House of Representatives

When it comes to just about every state legislative race in Texas, the March 1 primary is effectively the election. There are deep red Republican districts and deep blue battles in Democratic districts. There are just a handful of purple districts with competitive general election races come fall.

‘Establishment’ challengers

Three of the most conservative members of the Texas House are in the Mid-Cities: Jonathan Stickland, Tony Tinderholt and Matt Rinaldi.

All three of them are facing various stripes of challengers who are closer to the establishment. These are people who say they're going to go down to Austin and get things done. This is essentially a sort of "establishment strikes back" moment.

A challenger for Jonathan Stickland

In that race, there’s a conservative pastor named Scott Fischer who's challenging him and he's saying that Stickland is too libertarian: "He doesn't get anything done, he's too busy fighting ideological fights" and Fisher is making the case that he’ll actually go down there and get legislation done. He’s willing to compromise; he has his values and whatnot, but he's not going to just make grandstands. He actually wants to do more [in Austin] and there's a sort of moderate tone.

Less gridlock, more legislation

There's gridlock in Washington and we can all see that, but a lot of folks will tell you Austin is working and it has a very strong conservative bent to the legislature down there. They don't want to add to the types of people who are going to go down and see their job as stopping legislation, from passing stopping bills from going forward.

The outlier: Charlie Geren

Charlie Geren is the "establishment Republican" who’s facing a challenge from the right. Bo French is much more of the classic "movement conservative" mold of Republican: much more focused on ideological purity, border security, severely limiting government and red tape. 

Geren is more to the ideological center of the Republican Party. He is your classic establishment person. He is a very close ally of House Speaker Joe Strauss. Geren's known very much as a deal maker in Austin, someone who gets things done and can bring people together to compromise.

Because of that, he's viewed with some suspicion from the Tea Party as somebody who can't quite be trusted to "hold the line" on conservative values, which is the line of attack that French has taken.

A different House flavor

There’s not going to be a ton of change in terms of the real makeup of the House. All of these people are conservatives who are running – it depends on exactly where you put them on the spectrum. As one political scientist put it to me: “It’s like smoking your brisket with cedar or smoking it with oak. It’s smoked meat no matter what, just a slightly different flavor.”

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.