Charlie Geren easily beats Empower Texans challenger Bo French

A smiling Geren enjoys his victory. (Photo by Paul K. Harral)

Charlie Geren pulled off an impressive victory Tuesday after an expensive and bitter primary battle against Republican challenger Bo French to win renomination for a 10th term as state representative from District 99.

In final but unofficial results, Geren collected nearly 57 percent of the vote in the Republican primary with 7,909 votes to 6,014 for French. The margin was slightly smaller than Geren’s 16-percentage-point victory over French in 2016.

“I really think that the people of Fort Worth and Tarrant County are tired of a rich guy from Midland and two rich guys from Cisco trying to buy an election in Tarrant County,” Geren said.

French was among candidates up and down the GOP ballot that had the endorsement – and in some cases, the financial backing – of Empower Texans, an ultra-right conservative organization with deep pockets.

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The organization has been trying to oust moderate Republican lawmakers and local government officials and replace them with those who share their views against abortion and property taxes and their support of school vouchers and a bathroom bill that requires transgender Texans to use the restroom that aligns with their gender at birth.

Geren, as a top lieutenant of retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, has been a top target of Empower Texans for multiple election cycles.

In an online video, Empower Texans’ President and CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan called Geren “the knuckle-dragging enforcer of the Joe Straus regime.”

After the votes were counted, Geren, 68, said he has no plans to retire.

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“I’m not going to quit, if it means turning it over to [Empower Texans],” he said.

French did not respond to requests for comment. Besides more than $200,000 from Empower Texans, French also had the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Geren will be heavily favored to win re-election in November when he faces Democrat Michael Stackhouse, who ran unopposed in his party’s primary.

The GOP rematch was littered with allegations of misdeeds, including French’s lawsuit filed during the campaign claiming that a Geren campaign aide made a false complaint of child endangerment against him and his wife to Child Protective Services days before the 2016 primary that cost him the race.

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Then Geren had to defend against a mailer from Empower Texans that resembled an official government document from a nonexistent state agency that charged Geren with failure to disclose his relationship with a lobbyist, who happens to be his wife.

Empower Texans is largely bankrolled by Midland oilman Tim Dunn, who serves as chairman of the board of Empower Texans, and brothers Dan and Farris Wilks of Cisco, who made their fortune in the fracking business. The organization pumped significant dollars into primary campaigns of French and many others statewide.

In the end, Empower Texans did not gain much return on its investment in races statewide.

An analysis of 17 contested GOP House and Senate races in which Empower Texans were backing candidates, only three seats were picked up.

Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls lost to Pat Fallon in State Senate District 30; State Rep. Wayne Faircloth was defeated by Mayes Middleton in District 23; and State Rep. Jason Villalba lost to Lisa Luby Ryan in District 114.

The District 114 seat in Dallas is widely predicted to turn Democratic in November.

Yet, Empower Texans claimed victory for keeping the group of 12 ultra-right conservatives known as the Texas House Freedom Caucus intact with the re-election of four candidates in contested races.

Besides its support of French, Empower Texans also pumped funds into the campaign of Keller City Councilman Armin Mizani in his challenge of GOP incumbent State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione of District 98 in Northeast Tarrant County.

Capriglione defeated Mizani with nearly 63 percent of the vote: 11,763-6,995.

In other local races, Tarrant County tax assessor-collector Ron Wright is headed to a runoff against J.K. “Jake” Ellzey in the GOP race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Joe Barton in District 6. Wright led a group of 11 candidates with 45 percent of the vote; Ellzey tallied just under 22 percent.

“The most exciting and gratifying thing was the 61 percent of the vote I received in Tarrant County,” Wright said. “I did better than expected in Ellis County and about tied in Navarro County. I’m looking forward to May 22.”

Ellzey, a businessman and former Navy fighter pilot, won Ellis County, where he lives, with nearly 42 percent of the vote to Wright’s nearly 23 percent. In Navarro County, Wright captured 23 percent of the vote to Ellzey’s 27 percent. In Tarrant County, more than 26,000 votes were cast in the race compared to about 7,500 in Ellis County and 2,500 in Navarro County.

The GOP race to replace Wright as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector is headed to a runoff between former NBC news anchorman Mike Snyder and former Mansfield city councilwoman Wendy Burgess.

In the Democratic race for State Senate District 10, Beverly Powell received 62 percent of the vote over Allison Campolo’s 38 percent. Powell will face Republican incumbent State Sen. Konni Burton in November.

In the hotly contested race for the Republican nomination in Collin County’s State Senate District 8, Angela Paxton defeated Phillip Huffines with 54 percent of the vote. Paxton is married to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. In the Democratic primary, Mark Phariss edged Brian Chaput with 51 percent of the vote.

In the District 11 State Board of Education race, incumbent Republican Patricia Hardy won her primary and will face off against Democrat Carla Morton.

Turnout in both the Democratic and Republican races exceeded turnout in the last midterm primaries in 2014, according to data from the Texas Secretary of State.

Statewide this year, 1,543,674 Republicans cast ballots for a turnout of 10.12 percent, compared to 1,358,074 in 2014, or 9.98 percent turnout.

Democrats statewide this year cast 1,037,999 ballots, 6.8 percent, compared to 560,033 in 2014, 4.1 percent turnout.

In Tarrant County, Republicans cast 104,966 ballots this year, 9.58 percent, compared to 96,441 ballots, 9.96 percent, in 2014.

Tarrant County Democrats cast 71,633 ballots this year for a 6.80 percent turnout, up from 42,209 ballots or a 4.36 percent turnout in 2014.