Primary runoff battle ramps up for Texas Senate 10 seat

04/26/2014 6:32 PM

04/28/2014 8:06 AM

The race to replace Wendy Davis in the Texas Senate remains one of the hottest political campaigns in the state.

In about a month, Republican voters will head back to the polls to once and for all choose a candidate in the race — either longtime tea party activist Konni Burton of Colleyville or former state Rep. Mark Shelton of Fort Worth — to face Democrat Libby Willis in the November general election.

This decision could not only make or break the GOP’s efforts to reclaim the district, and move their party closer to a super majority, but it also could impact the overall ideological balance of power in the Senate.

“It is important in terms of ideological super majorities,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “A victory by Willis would on its own have a neutral effect on the ideological balance of power in the Senate.

“The election of Shelton would move it to the right and the election of Burton even further to the right.”

The winner of the Republican Party runoff will not only square off against Willis, but also against Libertarian Gene Lord and Green Party candidate John Tunmire of Fort Worth in the general election.

Voters in March whittled a field of five Republican candidates down to two.

Burton led with 43.23 percent of the vote and was followed by Shelton with 35.16 percent, leaving behind fellow challengers Arlington school Trustee Tony Pompa, Colleyville chiropractor Jon Schweitzer and Mark Skinner of Colleyville.

Political observers have long tagged this race as one to watch.

That’s not only because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on the campaign, but also because this district is the only one in the state that can’t be predicted to tilt Republican or Democrat in November.

It is “the only swing Senate district in the state,” Jones said. “In every one of the other Senate districts, the partisan composition of voters skews sufficiently Democrat or Republican that the outcome of the election in November is a foregone conclusion.

“While the partisan composition of SD-10 leans Republican, as Wendy Davis has demonstrated, it is still winnable for a Democrat.”

Davis, D-Fort Worth, chose to not seek re-election to this post. Instead, she decided to run for Texas governor.

The doctor

Shelton, a pediatrician and former state representative who lost a Senate bid to Davis in 2012, reported having the most cash on hand before the March 4 primary election, according to the most recent reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

At that time, the 57-year-old had nearly $130,000 in cash on hand, along with a $100,000 outstanding loan. Shelton noted that while his campaign does have a loan, “we have not spent it,” making his the only campaign in this race in the black.

Among his donors: BSNF Rail PAC, $1,000; Freese and Nichols PAC of Fort Worth, $250; Red McCombs, a San Antonio car dealer, $1,000; Medical Defense PAC, $5,000; and WA Moncrief Jr., $500.

He said he is the right person for this job.

“My responsible, conservative record representing Tarrant County is the best contrast against the Democrats in November,” said Shelton, who served two terms representing District 97 in the House. “Unlike my opponent, I am the only candidate in this race with experience in business, the community and the legislature.”

Two differences between Shelton and Burton arose during a recent candidate forum hosted by the Fort Worth Republican Women at the Fort Worth Club.

Shelton supports both issues: actively working to draw businesses to Texas and the state’s water plan that was approved by the Texas Legislature last year. Burton said she would have voted against the water plan because it creates another layer of government and believes businesses will come to Texas without tax dollars being spent to lure them here and “pick winners and losers in the market place.”

Shelton has picked up endorsements from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, the Texas Association of Businesses, Texas Association of Realtors, Texas Medical Association and Hispanic Republicans of Texas.

He said he has experience in balancing a state budget and cutting taxes.

“My focus is on finding Texas solutions to healthcare, strengthening our economy, improving education and securing our borders,” he said. “Ms. Burton has no record and her positions are out of step with voters in Fort Worth, Arlington and the mid-cities.”

“Voters have a clear choice on May 27,” he said. “It comes down to which candidate is the most responsible choice to represent Tarrant County families.”

The activist

Burton, a longtime leader in the NE Tarrant Tea Party, reported having nearly $60,000 in the bank, along with $200,000 in outstanding loans, before the March 4 primary, according to the ethics commission reports.

Since the primary, the 51-year-old has held a standing-room only fundraiser headlined by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who encouraged supporters to give to her campaign.

Among Burton’s earlier donations: $250 from the Bill Zedler campaign; $7,000 from Alan Harper of Arlington, president of Lender’s and Member’s Services; $1,000 from the Tea Parties of Texas PAC in Irving; and $1,000 from Doug Miller of Keller, the chief operating officer of RDA Solutions.

Burton, who has been active in numerous political campaigns and grassroots politics at the local, state and national levels, said she was prompted to run by a desire for conservative leadership in all levels of government.

“The fact that we re-elected Wendy Davis ... was a frustration of mine,” she said during the recent candidate forum. “I’m frustrated we have had a very liberal Democrat represent us in SD 10 and I’m ready to take that seat back.”

Top issues for her include protecting life and constitutional rights, implementing zero based budgeting and eliminating the state’s business margins tax.

“This campaign has what it takes to go in and beat the Democrats in November ... and finally get conservative representation back for SD 10,” said Burton, a former sales representative and small-business owner.

Burton’s endorsements include those from Cruz; Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley; Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright; Tarrant County Commissioners Andy Nguyen and Gary Fickes; and Republican state Reps. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Matt Krause of Fort Worth, Bill Zedler of Arlington and Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake.

District 10

District 10 — which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield, Colleyville and other areas of south and Northeast Tarrant County — has seen demographic changes in recent years that appear to leave the district up for grabs.

It was considered a fairly safe Republican district until Davis bested state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, in 2008.

In 2012, Republicans statewide worked to reclaim the seat for their party as Democrats backed Davis in her re-election bid against Shelton. Davis won re-election with 51.12 percent of the vote.

This Senate seat is vital to both parties. If Democrats lose it and all other Senate seats stay the same, Republicans inch closer to clinching a super majority in the chamber.

However, if Houston Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick is elected Texas’ next lieutenant governor, he is expected to change the two-thirds rule to a three-fifths rule, making it easier for the Republican majority to pass any legislation they desire.

The two-thirds rule requires at least 21 votes before a bill can reach the floor for debate. Currently, Republicans have 19 seats in the upper chamber and Democrats have 12.

Patrick faces Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a May 27 runoff. The winner of that runoff faces Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in the November general election.

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