The battle for Texas House District 99 already is turning into a marquee fight that could end up being one of the most expensive legislative races on the ballot next year.
More than half a year before Republicans will decide between state Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and challenger Bo French, hundreds of thousands of dollars are flowing into the race.
Geren has added $200,000 to his more than $800,000 war chest, and French has raised more than $100,000 in his bid for the seat that stretches along the northwestern part of Tarrant County, recent campaign finance reports show.
“It’s very interesting that this race is firing up people so soon,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “As we all know, it takes lots of money and campaigning to effectively challenge an incumbent, especially someone so prominent as Rep. Geren.”
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In one corner, there’s Geren, president of Railhead Smokehouse and a real estate developer, who has represented this district since 2001 and is a powerful top lieutenant of House Speaker Joe Straus.
In the other, there’s French, a political newcomer who grew up in Fort Worth and most recently was an executive with the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s tactical training company Craft International. He believes he is part of “the next generation of conservative leaders.”
“Charlie Geren is a longtime incumbent and has been a ‘player’ in Austin as a moderate politician who has brokered the leadership of Joe Straus,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “As a result, conservative Republicans have made him a target for a challenge from within the party.
“Bo French is a novice political candidate, but comes from a prominent family [as does Geren] and is in a position to challenge Geren from the right,” he said. “He also potentially has the financial resources to do so. Of course, each election seems to set new records for the cost of campaigns, and this one could be a blockbuster.”
The battle to represent this district in the Texas Legislature — a job that pays $7,200 a year — started earlier this year when French announced he is in the race. Geren later said he would seek re-election.
The most recent period to raise money for this race was technically January to June, but lawmakers such as Geren couldn’t accept donations for the bulk of that time because of a ban against collecting money while they are at work in the Legislature.
That gave Geren slightly more than a week, June 21-30, to accept donations. French, because he’s not a lawmaker, had the full six-month period to collect donations.
Here’s a look at some of their contributions, according to the most recent reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Donations to Geren’s campaign include: $15,000 from Fort Worth businessman Ed Bass; $15,000 from the Good Government Fund, run by the Bass family; $15,000 from PSEL, a Bass family political action committee; and $15,000 from the TREPAC/Texas Association of Realtors.
Contributions to French’s campaign include: $100 from Cathie Adams, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum; $10,000 from Don Dyer, an executive with Professional Janitorial Services in Austin; $10,000 from Lynn Booth, a Los Angeles homemaker, and $250 from Clayton Williams, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 1990 who lost to Democrat Ann Richards.
French’s paperwork shows he loaned himself $10,000.
“As one of Speaker Straus’s key lieutenants, Charlie Geren has been on the receiving end of the wrath of many movement conservatives in Tarrant County and statewide for several years,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
“Geren has a very large campaign war chest, and as a result of the substantial power he wields in the Texas House and his popularity among many deep-pocketed donors, an ability to raise all the money he needs for his re-election campaign,” he said. “For every dollar that Bo French raises, Geren should have little trouble raising three more.”
But incumbency and money don’t guarantee victory, Jones said.
“The 2014 defeats of Metroplex centrist conservatives like John Carona, Bob Deuell and Diane Patrick are cautionary tales that the Geren campaign is well aware of,” Jones said.
Other local races
Candidates can’t formally file for a political post on next year’s ballot until Nov. 14.
But more may step forward to challenge Tarrant County lawmakers.
“While prospective candidates still have almost five months to file to run in the March 1 primary, the clock is ticking,” Jones said. “The longer they delay, the more steep their climb to defeat any of the … incumbents expected to run for re-election will be.”
Here’s a look at the money raised by the rest of the Tarrant County delegation, according to documents filed with the ethics commission.
Senate District 9: Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, received more than $66,000, putting his total amount of cash on hand at more than $430,000.
SD 10: Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, raised $2,885 and has more than $35,000 in the bank. She does have a loan of $200,000 to the campaign.
SD 12: Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, received more than $41,000, boosting her cash on hand to more than $1.2 million.
SD 22: Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, raised more than $33,000, bringing his bank total to nearly $450,000.
House District 90: Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, received more than $33,000 and has more than $115,000 on hand.
HD 91: Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, raised just over $3,600. She has more than $50,000 in the bank and a loan of $27,000.
HD 92: Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, received nearly $7,000 and has more than $18,000 in cash on hand.
HD 93: Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, raised nearly $14,000 and has more than $100,000 in the bank.
HD 94: Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, received $2,660 and has nearly $9,000 on hand. He also has an $18,733 loan.
HD 95: Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, raised more than $5,000 and has more than $21,000 in the bank.
HD 96: Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, received more than $1,500 and has nearly $50,000 in cash on hand.
HD 97: Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, raised $2,500 and has more than $165,000 in the bank.
HD 98: Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, raised more than $16,000 and has more than $23,000 on hand. He also has nearly $70,000 in loans.
HD 101: Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, received $1,000 and has more than $38,000 in the bank.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610