State Rep. Charlie Geren is used to the target on his back.
One of the three remaining “Gang of Eleven” Republicans who worked with Democrats in 2009 to oust then-House Speaker Tom Craddick from office, and replace him with Joe Straus, he knows that some conservatives won’t stop trying to oust him from office.
“It’s not a concern,” said Geren, R-Fort Worth, who faces political newcomer and longtime family friend Bo French in his 2016 re-election bid. “Joe has done a very good job as speaker. And we have passed very conservative budgets.”
The GOP fight for House District 99 has become a marquee battle — one of the most costly, controversial local races that pits moderate conservatives against movement conservatives.
“Geren is the sole remaining centrist conservative in the in the eight-member strong Tarrant County GOP House delegation and enjoys strong support from the Fort Worth business community and the Austin lobby,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
“Bo French is a very credible rival, with an impressive résumé and deep pockets,” he said. “He also has the support of many of the most prominent movement conservative groups at the state and Tarrant County levels.”
The two men and their prominent families have long run in the same circles; Geren’s parents lived across the street from French’s grandparents.
They now face off in the March 1 Republican primary to determine who will represent the district that stretches from Fort Worth to Pelican Bay and from River Crest to Azle.
At stake is a two-year term that pays $7,200 a year.
Political observers statewide say this is a race to watch.
This is trench warfare.
Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the
“This is trench warfare,” said Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Quorum Report, an Austin-based online political newsletter. “It’s fundamentally a ground game right now.”
Early voting runs Feb. 16-26.
Geren, president of Railhead Smokehouse and a real estate developer, has represented the district since 2001 and is a powerful top lieutenant of House Speaker Straus.
He’s seeking another term in office.
“I believe we have some work that I don’t believe is finished, including addressing franchise tax and school finance,” said Geren, 66, who heads the House Administration Committee. “I’m qualified to work on both of those. My experience and my position with the leadership team give me a good step up over my opponent.”
He is one of three “cardinals,” along with Straus and state Rep. Bryon Cook, R-Corsicana, who remain in the House from the original Gang of 11.
Midland oilman Tim Dunn, a GOP political donor who has given millions to candidates to move the Legislature to the right, heads the board of directors of Empower Texans, which has spent heavily trying to unseat the cardinals because of the belief they are too moderate.
Money from those two, along with donations from Farris Wilks, a Cisco pastor and billionaire, have gone to helping French, who calls himself part of “the next generation of conservative leaders.”
If re-elected, Geren said his top priorities would include continuing border security funds — and allocating even more dollars for the cause — as well as reducing taxes, putting more funding into transportation and ensuring that public schools have enough funding.
I believe my position in the House, and my experience in the House, makes me the better of the two candidates.
State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth
“I believe my position in the House, and my experience in the House, makes me the better of the two candidates,” Geren said. “I’m not going to attack Bo.”
Geren has the most money in the bank of any Tarrant County legislative candidate — nearly $700,000 — and added nearly $140,000 to his war chest in January, according to the most recent reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Among his largest recent donations: $15,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $15,000 from TREPAC/Texas Association of Realtors, $10,000 from Texans for Education Reform PAC, $10,000 from Charles Butt of the H-E-B grocery store chain and $5,000 from H.R. Perot Jr. of Plano, chairman of the Hillwood development firm.
French, a 46-year-old private equity investor and political newcomer, is challenging Geren for the post.
“I am running for office because I am worried about the direction of our country,” he said. “We keep re-electing politicians who say they are conservative on the campaign trail and then when in office get failing grades from the major conservative groups.
“Given the damage that has been done to our Constitution, we simply can’t afford that anymore.”
French, who served as a chief officer of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s tactical training company Craft International, drew media attention in 2014 for ending up in court arguing with Kyle’s widow about the future of the company. A lawsuit filed against French and his partner was ultimately dropped.
Even so, “in the eyes of an overwhelming majority of HD-99 GOP primary voters, Chris Kyle is a true American hero, and it’s never good for a political candidate if the widow of a true American hero says that you cheated her,” Jones said.
At the same time, Jones described French as credible rival who has the support “of many of the most prominent movement conservative groups ... as well as the backing of other conservative groups active in the county and state.”
French said the main issues in this race are Geren’s “weak record on the border, weak record on school choice, weak record on life, weak record on fiscal responsibility, his weak record on religious liberty and my willingness to go be a champion for those causes.”
I am an authentic conservative and not a campaign conservative. I will fight for all Texans’ rights and not go along with the Democrats.
Challenger Bo French
“I am an authentic conservative and not a campaign conservative,” he said. “I will fight for all Texans’ rights and not go along with the Democrats.”
If elected, he hopes to work to secure the border, lower taxes, focus on students to improve Texas schools, protect innocent life, protect religious liberty, reassert Second Amendment rights and push back on an overreaching federal government.
French received more than $82,000 last month, giving him nearly $180,000 in the bank, recent campaign reports showed.
In the past, he has received donations from Mercedes Bass of Fort Worth, the NE Tarrant Tea Party, Dunn and more. As for his most recent donations, the largest one — $50,000 — came from the Empower Texans PAC.
“This election is not personal,” French said. “My opponent is a lifelong family friend. However, he thinks it serves our district best to empower the liberal democrats in the House, even though we have a huge majority of Republicans. I disagree.”
A closer look
- Age: 66
- Occupation: Restaurant owner, rancher
- Residence: Fort Worth
- Contact: 817-624-9999; charliegeren.com
- Age: 46
- Occupation: Investor
- Residence: Fort Worth
- Contact: www.bofrench.com, firstname.lastname@example.org 817-919-6969
To learn more information about candidates on the March 1 ballot, check out the online Star-Telegram Voter Guide.