FORT WORTH — Four Republicans seeking to be the state’s next lieutenant governor all tried to prove one thing Monday night.Each wanted to show that he is the most conservative candidate in the race.Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and his three challengers — state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples — gathered at the Elks Lodge, hoping to reach out to the party faithful who will chose the person they want in the post next year.Dewhurst said he was asked by one of the more than 150 people gathered at the standing-room-only event why all Republicans can’t be Tea Party members.“Because if you are a conservative Republican, you already are one,” he told those at the nearly two-hour lieutenant governor candidate forum hosted by the 912 Project Fort Worth. “Before 2009, before the Tea Party, didn’t we all believe as conservatives that the government was spending too much, taxing too much, [needed to] shut down the IRS, that we needed to protect and respect the 10th amendment … [and] protect our borders?”Patrick said this is a serious election with serious issues on the table.“We need someone with an impeccable conservative record, passion and energy to serve … and who can lead as a conservative Republican in the Texas Senate,” he said.Patterson touted his defense of the oil and gas industry, which has gone so far that he was rejecting calls to designate the dune sagebrush lizard an endangered species because it could harm the thriving industry in West Texas.He said he wants to restore the Second Amendment, improve education and affect taxes in the state.Staples, along with the others, expressed great distrust of the federal government – and great appreciation for the attitude many Texas Republicans have.“Thank you for taking America back,” he told the crowd. “I’m real nervous about Republicans in Washington. They spent $10 million to reinvent themselves. We don’t need to reinvent ourselves. “We need to rededicate ourselves.”Common groundDewhurst, the state’s No. 2 leader since 2003, is seeking a fourth term next year.Whereas Staples, Patterson and Patrick backed Dewhurst in his failed bid for the U.S. Senate last year against Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, all three said this year they are challenging Dewhurst for the post.Each believes he is the best candidate.But at the same time, they agree on many issues.They are united in the belief that Republicans need to fend off Democratic efforts to turn Texas blue. They vow to fight against federal intervention in Texas. They believe that Texans should be allowed to carry firearms openly. And they want the law repealed that lets those illegally in the country pay in-state tuition.On Monday night, they also said they want to cap the rainy-day fund and make sure that it can be used only for emergencies. They want to reduce property taxes. They don’t support getting rid of the three-member elected Railroad Commission and substituting a single appointed commissioner. But they do support getting rid of the margins tax, boosting border security and bringing gold stored in other states back to Texas.‘Bull’s-eye on our back’Patterson said he wants to make sure that today’s “children and grandchildren will enjoy the same opportunities we’ve had.”Dewhurst said he wants to continue his work to make Texas the best state it can be.And all candidates say they are united in the effort to fight unnecessary federal efforts to put additional regulations and restraints on Texans – and to keep Texas red.“I do not want the Democrats to run Texas,” Staples said. “I believe in holding government accountable [and] fighting for what we believe in.”Patrick agreed.“Democrats have a bull’s-eye on our back,” he said. “They know if they win Texas, we never elect a Republican to the White House again.”The last day to file for a spot on the March 4 primary ballot is Dec. 9.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley