Bud Kennedy

May 20, 2014

Perry and Dewhurst too liberal? Welcome to the new right-wing Texas

A more conservative state Senate, a more libertarian tone probable after Tuesday primary runoff.

Texas is about to become even more conservative.

With as many as eight new state senators and the possibility of a religious conservative radio host as lieutenant governor, that chamber will lean right no matter how the runoff Tuesday turns out.

Ron Paul libertarians also look like potential winners in some House runoffs, meaning more guns and less government interest in problem-solving about water, transportation or education.

That should please listeners to a certain radio talk station in Houston, where a morning host in 2004 had a harsh greeting for the Republican State Convention.

“The problem with Texas is that Rick Perry is too liberal,” the host said.

“David Dewhurst — he’s just too liberal!”

Radio host Dan Patrick is now the front-runner to succeed Dewhurst as lieutenant governor.

Whether or not he defeats Dewhurst, the new lineup of senators and House members will make former House Speaker Tom Craddick look like a lib.

Resignations and defeats of Senate business Republicans “have decimated the centrist-conservative wing,” Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor, wrote by email.

Even if Republican nominee Greg Abbott goes on to become governor, Jones wrote, “Abbott’s leadership skills will be put to the test in 2015 … to find common ground on a host of major public-policy issues ranging from transportation infrastructure to public education.”

One school of thought is that conservatives would have taken Texas 20 years ago if not for Gov. George W. Bush. Another is that party insiders kept a calm grip until jarred by the outside candidacy of now-U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Maybe most important of all: Traditional business leaders and civic-club Republicans haven’t figured out how to win elections against aggressive libertarian conservatives and their passionate volunteers with intense social media.

“Establishment Republicans have not figured out how to consistently mobilize voters who share [their] worldview,” Jones wrote, adding that a few rich donors have helped the outsiders campaign.

At Southern Methodist University, political science professor Matthew Wilson follows social and religious conservatives.

“It’s hard to imagine more minimal government than Texas already has, but that seems to be what the Tea Party folks want,” he wrote. (Except when it comes to border enforcement.)

Before Patrick went into politics, he was known for religious themes and for his book, The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read: A Personal Challenge to Read the Bible.

But Wilson said the current conservative movement seems more about smaller government and less about church.

“It really does seem libertarians are driving the bus,” he wrote, adding that a new Legislature focused on lower taxes and spending will be challenged to meet water and transportation needs.

Of course, one basic truth of Texas politics affects every party primary: Only the meanest, maddest or most motivated voters show up.

Less than 5 percent of Texas voters cast ballots for Cruz in the 2012 party runoff, but that was enough to essentially put him in the Senate.

Tea Party candidates aren’t doing well elsewhere.

“Why here?” veteran Texas analyst and political science professor Richard Murray wrote from the University of Houston.

Mainly, he wrote, because our conservatives vote.

“The country-club and business-oriented elements in the GOP don’t seem to find much to attract them to the polls,” he wrote, “leaving the ideological social conservatives in command.”

That won’t change by next week.

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