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A vote to investigate the Jan. 6 is driving fierce primary challenges to this North Texas Republican

A photograph of a man in a suit and a face mask listening to a speaker in the U.S. Capitol.
Caroline Brehman
/
Associated Press
Rep. Van Taylor bucked his party and voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results. He voted in favor of a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Now, he's facing primary challengers who say he shouldn't have.

Congressman Van Taylor of Plano built his political reputation as one of the most right-wing lawmakers in Texas. Now, he’s facing four challengers in a GOP primary that offers insight into post-Trump politics and new political maps.

Hours after the fatal Jan. 6 insurrection had been quelled, Van Taylor broke with most members of his party.

In the middle of the night, after the violent mob was driven from the Capitol, the House of Representatives voted to certify the 2020 election results. Taylor voted with the majority, which was mostly made up of Democrats. He was one of a handful of Texas Republicans who voted to do so.

In an op-ed, Taylor said it was his constitutional duty, even if he didn’t like the results.

“As a Marine, I fought to defend our freedom abroad. Storming the Capitol to oppose the outcome of an election is destructive to the democracy I fought to defend,” he said.

That vote — and a later vote in favor of a commission to investigate the circumstances that led to the violent insurrection at the Capitol — was a breaking point and an opportunity for the four Republicans hoping to replace Taylor in the GOP primary on March 1.

One independent poll — and other polls have produced similar results — shows only about 1 in 5 Republicans believe that Biden legitimately won the election, despite exhaustive evidence that it was actually one of the most secure elections in history.

Taylor is not among them, but his challengers are.

In interviews with the Dallas Morning News’ editorial board, investment banker Suzanne Harp and former Collin County Judge Keith Self both said they believed the former president was the rightful winner of the election. In other settings, that belief was espoused by the other two candidates, flight attendant Jeremy Ivanovskis and education executive Rickey Williams.

The Jan. 6 commission

Even more upsetting to the challengers: Taylor voted in favor of setting up a commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, just one of two Texas Republicans who did.

A mob of trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Jose Luis Magana/AP
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FR159526 AP
A mob of trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

In an interview on a conservative talk radio program, Taylor defended the decision as a vote in favor of a commission similar to the one that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, that would not include any current members of Congress.

He said it was an effort to head off the committee as it is currently constituted and is now investigating: A Congressional committee with mostly Democratic lawmakers conducting the investigation.

“I have voted against that committee nine different times,” he said, calling it a “disaster.”

Taylor declined an interview with KERA.

Taylor came into the race with significantly more money and more name recognition than his opponents, but the fact that he has so many challengers reflects a Republican base eager to believe the former president’s false statements about the election.

At a candidate forum hosted by the Collin County Republican Party, from which Taylor was absent, each of his challengers said they would’ve voted against the depoliticized commission that Taylor had supported.

They expressed concern for the wellbeing of the rioters and downplayed the attack on the Capitol that led to several deaths, dozens of injured police officers and $1.5 million in damage.

Suzanne Harp, an investment banker who touts herself as “the conservative, pro-Trump, America First candidate,” said that she believed, “those who went into the Capitol were goaded in” by agitators and described those who were jailed as “political prisoners.” Harp’s son, Blake, is chief of staff for a speaker at Trump’s rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

Flight attendant Jeremy Ivanovskis also alluded to conspiracy theories that the violence was instigated by undercover FBI agents.

Rickey Williams, a deputy executive director for the Texas Educational Agency’s Region 10 Education Service Center, decried the treatment of the “poor souls” arrested on charges related to the attack. He described the Jan. 6 commission as “a political tool to persecute Trump supporters.”

And former Collin County Judge Keith Self similarly bemoaned a supposed chilling effect from the investigation.

“Some people are saying I don’t dare go and petition my government, which is a First Amendment right, because they might show up with the SWAT vehicles, kick down my door, handcuff me in front of my family and take me off to jail,” Self said.

Self, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is perhaps Taylor’s strongest challenger. A former Collin County Judge for 12 years, he's previously won the vote of a large chunk of Republican voters in District 3.

At the end of 2021, the most recent date for which campaign finance information was reported, Self had also raised the most money among the challengers — nearly $166,000. That’s dwarfed by Taylor’s $1.86 million in contributions last year.

Suzanne Harp reported raising nearly $48,000. Williams and Ivanovskis reported no fundraising for 2021.

A changing district

The redistricting map above shows the shifting boundaries of the congressional district after Texas Republicans redrew the state's political maps after the last census.
KERA News
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Texas Redistricting
The redistricting map above shows the shifting boundaries of the congressional district after Texas Republicans redrew the state's political maps after the last census.

Aside from right-wing challengers, Taylor is also running in a new district after Texas Republicans redrew the state’s political maps.

For the last decade, Texas’ 3rd Congressional district covered most of Collin County. By 2020, growing Asian American, Black and Latino communities had made it increasingly multicultural. Whites made nearly two-thirds of the district’s residents in 2012 but accounted for just under half of the population in the old district’s boundaries by 2020.

Politically, the once-bright red district was showing strong streaks of purple, as GOP appeal in the nation’s suburban counties waned during the Trump era.

When Texas Republicans redrew the districts last year following the latest census, they consolidated their party’s control over District 3 by carving off parts of denser, more diverse Frisco and Plano and adding all of Hunt County, which is more white, more rural and more conservative.

Research from the Texas Political Project at UT Austin quantified the increased GOP advantage in the new political map. In the newly drawn District 3, 56.3% of voters picked Donald Trump in 2020. Within the old boundaries, the former president won just 49.6% of the vote.

There is also a Democratic primary for the district on March 1, though any Democrat will have a tough time on a playing field tilted in favor of Republican candidates.

Doc Shelby, a former vice chair for the Hunt County Democratic Party and retired Royse City resident, and Sandeep Srivastava, a Plano real estate agent and Indian immigrant, are campaigning to be the Democratic candidate. Of the two, only Srivastava reported fundraising in 2021, about $60,000.

Taylor’s conservative cred

Beyond the 2020 election’s integrity and the insurrection on Jan. 6, there is little daylight between Taylor and his GOP challengers on hot-button issues. Tonally, there’s scant difference either, with each of the candidates framing Democratic policies as existential threats.

Long before he took his seat in congress, Van Taylor rode a Tea Party wave into the Texas statehouse in 2010. He was Harvard-educated and working in commercial real estate development. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate.

In Austin, he earned the respect of far-right activists and got top marks on billionaire-backed anti-tax score cards. He pushed to allow concealed handguns at community colleges, signed onto a brief opposing marriage benefits for same-sex couples and advocated ethics reform.

In 2017, Taylor authored a controversial 2017 law to force local officials to help enforce federal immigration laws. Later that year, he sailed through a campaign to replace retiring long-time Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano.

In Washington, Taylor still earns top marks from right-wing lobby groups, but he’s also cultivated a reputation for reaching across the aisle.

Taylor leaned on that bipartisan reputation in his 2020 re-election campaign, when he faced a strong Democratic challenger and a district growing more demographically and politically diverse. His website even included a screenshot of a Dallas Morning News article that declared him “Mr. Bipartisan.”

“When you can find common ground, when you can work together to do something constructive, without compromising your principals … you want to take the opportunity to do that,” he said in a recent interview, sandwiching the statement between lists of conservative endorsements.

With the GOP primary looming, the celebration of bipartisanship is not the message Van Taylor is trying to get out.

Now prominently displayed on his website: A 1,300-word litany of his conservative bona fides describing his battles against “radical liberals.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Taylor was the only Texas Republican to vote to certify the election results. While most Texas Republicans in Congress supported objections to certifying election results from Pennsylvania and Arizona, just five in the House and one Senator voted to certify the election results from both of those swing states.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher atcconnelly@kera.org .You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, considermaking a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

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.