The combustible mix of big-name Republican candidates for lieutenant governor promises to make the 2014 race loud, contentious and expensive.
Tea party darling state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, entered the fray Thursday, professing himself to be the “authentic conservative” in the four-man contest.
“An authentic conservative is someone who doesn’t wake up in the morning wondering what they stand for,” Patrick said at a news conference in Austin.
Patrick is expected to be running against three statewide elected officials in the Republican primary next spring: incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
“This is going to be a real donnybrook if all four of them end up running,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor.
In the wake of the Tuesday night filibuster debacle in the Senate, Dewhurst might reassess whether he should continue to seek a fourth term as lieutenant governor, Jones said.
All of his competitors are taking aim at Dewhurst for allowing the Democratic filibuster over an abortion bill to devolve into legislative chaos.
“I strongly believe (Dewhurst) has lost his grip on the reins of the Senate and his horse has run wild,” Patterson wrote in a campaign email Wednesday. “He needs to either dismount or be thrown from the saddle.”
Patrick also faulted Dewhurst because he allowed the abortion legislation to die while also giving the Democrats a high-profile opportunity to rally their supporters.
Republican primary voters aren’t likely to remember Dewhurst’s stumbles, particularly if the abortion legislation gets enacted during the special legislative session that begins Monday.
But Dewhurst does need to shake off “the image that he isn’t engaged in the position, that he is running more to redeem his reputation than to be lieutenant governor,” Jones said, referring to Dewhurst’s unexpected loss last year to Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate race.
As statewide elected officials, Staples and Patterson, both former state senators, are already known quantities with Republican activists across the state. They won’t cede to Patrick the party’s most conservative voters.
“With so many critical issues facing our state, we need strong and honest leaders who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. I have a record of fighting for our conservative values and will continue to do so as the next lieutenant governor,” Staples said in a statement.
Patrick, a conservative radio host from Houston who joined the Texas Senate in 2007, has focused heavily on bills expanding abortion restrictions as well as on efforts to reduce property and business taxes.
This session, he served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Patrick successfully pushed legislation to expand charter school offerings across the state and overhaul high-stakes testing requirements. His high-profile proposal to help public school students pay for private school never came to the floor of the Senate.
Patrick’s efforts to keep a foot in both the Senate establishment and in tea party circles has created problems for him, particularly when he endorsed Dewhurst over Cruz last year.
“That will come back to haunt him,” Jones said.
Patrick and Dewhurst have had a topsy-turvy relationship of late.
Patrick flirted with the idea of challenging Dewhurst in the U.S. Senate race in 2011 after blaming the lieutenant governor for killing a bill that would have criminalized invasive patdowns by airport security screeners. A year later, Patrick was defending Dewhurst’s conservative record against attacks from Cruz, who ultimately prevailed.
In the fall, Dewhurst handed Patrick his chairmanship. Once part of the leadership, Patrick seemed to toe the party line — until the very end of the regular legislative session in May, when he voted against the budget that he helped write.
That vote launched a war of words between Patrick and Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
“I can only conclude he was looking for an excuse to distance himself from our good work to advance his own political interests,” Williams wrote in a column published by the Texas Tribune.