Dewhurst planning only 1 more term

JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says he plans to serve only one more term if re-elected in November, allowing him to return to the private sector and replenish a fortune depleted by years of expensive campaigns.

The Republican businessman, who has held his post for 11 years, spent about $25 million of his personal fortune on a failed U.S. Senate bid in 2012 and millions more on five previous statewide campaigns.

“I see myself as serving one more term,” Dewhurst told The Associated Press. “People advise ‘never say never,’ but I’m leaner today than when I started in politics. I need to go back and earn some money.”

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That he’s willing to stay in office again might come as a surprise to some. Dewhurst, 68, took more political dings over the last 18 months than most legislators could survive.

He ran for U.S. Senate as the anointed candidate who had paid his dues on the state level, only to be outflanked on the right by upstart Ted Cruz. Cruz forced Dewhurst into a runoff, then beat him in one of the biggest upsets in Texas politics in decades.

Soon after that defeat, one of Dewhurst’s trusted campaign advisers was accused of pilfering as much as $4 million from his state campaign accounts.

Then came June’s spectacle of the Texas Senate filibuster over abortion restrictions, led by Democrat Sen. Wendy Davis. Hundreds of noisy protesters disrupted the Senate chamber and derailed a vote. A bewildered Dewhurst and his Republican colleagues desperately tried to restore order but couldn’t.

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The bill passed a few weeks later, but the damage was done. The filibuster turned Davis into a rising Democratic star — she’s now running for governor — and almost immediately some Republicans pointed the blame at Dewhurst, who they called a failed leader who wasn’t strong enough to use the GOP majority’s muscle to smother Davis and the Democrats.

The fallout was a line of challengers for his job. State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Sen. Dan Patrick all are running against Dewhurst in the March 4 primary. Their goal is to get Dewhurst into a runoff and “Cruz” him again.

“It is crass political posturing to say I created Wendy Davis, a case of obnoxious amnesia,” Dewhurst said. “I’m pleased with our success. … (Voters) don’t care if we passed the bill on June 25 or July 11. They just want it passed.”

Dewhurst insists he’s the most conservative candidate in the race with a track record to prove it. Since 2003, Dewhurst helped Republicans push through rugged redistricting efforts, limited damages paid in civil and medical malpractice lawsuits, passed a voter identification law and tightened abortion restrictions and spending.

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Dewhurst also said he has the experience Texas needs in an election in which he’s the only incumbent seeking re-election among the major statewide offices.

He said he consulted his wife on the campaign, running only with her blessing. Dewhurst once was organizing doll clothes with his 10-year-old stepdaughter when she complained that he’d been away from home so much over the last two years.

“Wow. Talk about take a (6-foot-5) guy down to his knees in about a second. … I haven’t forgotten it,” Dewhurst said. “I love my family more than anything. I’d like to win this race in the primary and spend more of the spring and summer (at home).”

If this is indeed Dewhurst’s last campaign, he certainly intends to win. The loss to Cruz taught him he needed to reconnect with voters at the grassroots level and forced him to change his playbook.

He has walked blocks in Patrick’s Senate district four times, knocking on doors and asking for votes. In Waco, he attended a tea party potluck dinner. He didn’t bring a covered dish — “I don’t cook” — but rolled up his sleeves to help clean afterward.

“You’ve got to feel the mood of the people,” Dewhurst said as he used a knife and fork to eat a well-done salmon sandwich at an Austin hotel.

When asked if he’ll keep spending his personal fortune to win, Dewhurst, after a lengthy pause, said, “If I didn’t believe by a long shot I was the most experienced, most conservative and best candidate for Texans and the economic future and their ability to have opportunity and live the American dream, then I wouldn’t be running.”

His determination is rooted in his past.

Dewhurst’s father was killed by a drunken driver when Dewhurst was 3. He played basketball at the University of Arizona before serving in the Air Force and going to work for the CIA in Bolivia.

His first oil-field supply company went bankrupt, but he struck it rich when another of his companies, Falcon Seaboard, which had ventured into selling electricity to utilities and industrial users, sold three power plants for $226 million.