How Ted Cruz and Ron Paul Republicans took over Tarrant

02/22/2014 4:43 PM

02/24/2014 9:19 AM

The days are gone when Tarrant County politics revolved around baseball owner-governor George W. Bush or U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Now, it revolves around Republicans like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz or state Rep. Jonathan Stickland.

The county’s abrupt right turn was on display again last week, when the genteel Bush was on our front page honoring veterans while the brash Stickland, R-Bedford, was at a debate calling public school spending “wealth redistribution.”

Once, the John Birch Society distributed fliers calling public education a subversive plot, and Republicans laughed.

Now, Birchers are almost too liberal.

Depending on your point of view, this is either a drastic personality change for the once-stable home county of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger and land commissioner candidate George P. Bush, or acceptance of our natural orientation.

Bob Hampton of Hurst was a 12-year Republican county commissioner representing Northeast Tarrant.

“I’ve never seen anything out here like these Ron Paul people,” he said, referring to Stickland’s core supporters and campaigners for other “liberty” candidates.

“They’re like fire ants. They bite everybody who gets in their way.”

He has a yard sign for Euless Republican Andy Cargile, a school trustee and Stickland’s opponent.

“I’m not in love with Cargile, but Stickland is just so extreme it’s unbelievable,” Hampton said.

“It’s gotten really weird out here. If somebody says let’s spend more money for schools, they get treated like a crazy nut.”

Hampton blames outside money that pays poll solicitors $10 or $15 an hour and publishes phantom endorsement cards or sham ratings.

He read one fresh mailer: “ ‘Texans for Fiscal Responsibility’ — this doesn’t even say ‘Republican’! Who’s paying for all this? I guarantee it’s not anybody in Hurst-Euless-Bedford.”

That particular group is financed almost exclusively by Midland oil millionaire Tim Dunn, founder of a private church school.

Stickland’s campaign also relies on a generous gift from Dallas state Senate candidate Don Huffines, a millionaire Paul supporter.

Huffines also happens to be the developer of the huge and tax-subsidized Viridian project in the Arlington part of the district.

From the other side of the argument, Tea Party speaker and 912 Project Fort Worth co-founder Adrian Murray also said the county’s personality change is definitely about money — but taxpayers’ money.

“People were very afraid in 2008 and 2009 that the economy would collapse, and we’d have chaos,” said Murray, president of a Fort Worth auto electrical parts company.

“The voters blamed themselves for not being involved, and the establishment for causing it,” he said. “That change has been everywhere, not just locally.”

Murray said “anger and fear” spurred voters to connect with the energetic young Ron Paul activists knocking on doors and challenging the Republican establishment.

Inspired by one of Paul’s sons, Robert, a Benbrook physician, “we have a lot of young, intelligent people from the libertarian side, much stronger here than in most of the country,” Murray said.

Local business leaders and traditional Republicans tried to ignore the young libertarians and wound up completely losing political control of Tarrant County.

“Basically, they just stopped participating,” Murray said.

“They didn’t engage. They just said, ‘Oh, I don’t like those people, so I won’t be active.’ It was the exact opposite of what they should have done.”

Now, they’re done.

About Bud Kennedy

Bud Kennedy

@budkennedy

Bud Kennedy is a homegrown Fort Worth guy who started out covering high school football here when he was 16. He went away to the Fort Worth Press and newspapers in Austin and Dallas, then came home in 1981.

Since 1987, he's written more than 1,000 weekly dining columns and more than 3,000 news and politics columns. If you don't like what he says about politics, read him on barbecue.

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