Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a Republican Texas House member’s primary challenger in a swing district that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Abbott said in an email that he supports Susanna Dokupil, a former assistant solicitor general who is challenging state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place. Davis, considered the most moderate House Republican, has represented the district since 2011.
“Susanna worked alongside me to defend Texas values when I was the attorney general,” Abbott said in a taped message sent with the email. “I trust Susanna, and I know that voters in House District 134 can trust her too to fight for their needs in Austin, Texas. She is a principled conservative who will be a true champion for the people of House District 134 in Houston.”
In a district that includes Rice University and the wealthy River Oaks neighborhood and where Clinton outperformed Donald Trump by 15.4 points in the presidential election, it’s unclear whether a more conservative Republican can win the seat. Davis won the 2016 election with about 54 percent of the vote in part by appealing to Democrats and outlining where she and they agree.
“I have always voted my uniquely independent district, and when it comes to campaign season I have always stood on my own, which is why I outperformed Republicans up and down the ballot in the last midterm election,” Davis said in a statement after Abbott’s announcement. “Republican voters in HD 134 will not be told for whom to vote, and will not nominate a candidate who will be so easily defeated in the fall because they are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the extremist fringe group Empower Texans.”
Abbott said a day after the summer special session ended with the Legislature enacting just half of his agenda that he would support GOP challengers to Republican incumbents who did not back his priorities. Dokupil is the first GOP challenger Abbott has endorsed.
“It’s a little surprising for the governor to get involved,” especially because the seat isn’t open, said Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice. “If Abbott is going to go after a Republican, Sarah Davis is probably at the top of the list.”
Davis is fiscally conservative and socially moderate, especially on issues of abortion, education and health care, Jones said. That makes her the perfect representative for her moderate district but a target in the Republican primary, where the “median voter” tends to be more conservative than Davis, he said.
If Davis loses the nomination, Democrats will have a better chance of picking up the seat, he said.
Davis is chairwoman of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee. From that position, she has pushed for several reforms for more accountability in state government. During the summer special session, she and Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, asked Abbott to add ethics reform to the agenda.
Legislation she introduced would have prohibited lawmakers and elected statewide officials from lobbying immediately after leaving office. Other bills would have given the Texas Ethics Commission more oversight of local campaigns and political action committees inside and outside the state, increased disclosure requirements for vendors that do business with local governments to identify possible conflicts of interest, and extended conflict of interest disclosure requirements to members of governing boards at state agencies.
Another bill would have banned political contributions to the legislative and executive branches during special sessions and 20-day veto periods.
An Abbott spokesman said at the time that Davis and Larson were “showboating over proposals that are not on the governor’s call.”