Ends: Friday, Feb. 26
Voting: Tuesday, March 1
As Super Tuesday voters determine Texas’ presidential delegates, they also will settle some heated contests in Tarrant County that have turned into political grudge matches.
Highlighting the GOP ticket are marquee races for sheriff, several state representatives’ seats and at least one judicial race. These races resemble a pattern that began several years ago as Tea Party-backed conservatives and establishment Republicans each attempt to tip the balance of power in their favor.
“Tarrant County is really the epicenter of these races,” said Jim Riddlesperger, political science professor at Texas Christian University.
The stakes for the state representative seats are high in the Fort Worth area, as well as other parts of the state, as the conservative wing of the GOP seeks to seize control of the House speakership and the agenda of the State Legislature, Riddlesperger said. The races have also spurred fundraising in excess of $1.6 million.
As a result, interest in local races, combined with the drama of the presidential slugfest, has resulted in unprecedented turnout for early voting.
“The Republican Party set a record for the first day of early voting,” said Tarrant County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips. “The Democratic turnout was not as high but still strong.”
The power play in local state representative races has put the spotlight on the District 99 race, where state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) is a key target as a top lieutenant to House Speaker Joe Straus.
“Gov. (Greg) Abbott and Lt. Gov. (Dan) Patrick will be better able to pursue their conservative agenda with Joe Straus and Charlie Geren out of the way,” Riddlesperger said.
Representing State House District 99 since 2001, Geren has and staved off a number of conservative challengers over the years. This year, he faces Bo French, a private equity investor and former business partner of slain Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the subject of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper film. Kyle’s widow, Taya, is battling French and another partner in court over the company’s financial management and ownership.
Geren, president of Railhead Smokehouse and a real estate developer, reported raising $570,000, and spending $480,000, according to 2016 campaign finance reports. He had $695,761 cash on hand as of the most recent campaign finance reports filed on Feb. 1.
French reported raising about $240,000, spending $144,300 and having $178,000 cash on hand and about $25,000 in loans.
In the District 92 race, incumbent Jonathan Stickland faces Euless pastor Scott W. Fisher. Stickland, a, outspoken Tea Party-backed conservative who rattled feathers during his first term in the State House, has raised about $460,000, spent about $167,000 and has $308,000 in cash available for in his bid for a second term, according to finance reports
Fisher has raised about $100,000, spent $119,000 and had almost $15,000 available on Feb. 1, according to reports.
In the District 94 race, Tony Tinderholt, another Tea Party-backed conservative who defeated Diane Patrick two years ago, has raised more than $205,000, spent about $109,000 and had about $100,000 cash available and an outstanding loan of $18,733 as of Feb. 1, according to reports.
Challenger Andrew Piel, an attorney and former Tarrant County assistant district attorney, has raised about $57,000, spent nearly $24,500 and had more than $27,000 on hand as of Feb. 1, according to reports He also reported $2,379 in loans.
Geren and other establishment GOP candidates have the support of local business people.
The Tea Party-backed candidates, including French, have drawn support and funding from sources that include the conservative Empower Texans PAC, Midland oilman Tim Dunn and the Wilks family oil and gas billionaires of Cisco, Texas, and the NE Tarrant Tea Party PAC.
“The NE Tarrant Tea Party weighs in on every race on the ballot,” said President Julie McCarty. “We financially supported 31 candidates for state representative and are excited to see how many of them make it across the finish line.”
The group, regarded as one of the most active grassroots Tea Party organizations in Texas, has been in existence for seven years and has become a reckoning force in political races.
“The advances we have made in that short time are astounding … and we are not stopping anytime soon,” she said.
The Tarrant County sheriff’s race is another hot contest that also has a Tea Party vs. establishment Republican element.
Incumbent Dee Anderson, running for a fifth term as Tarrant County’s top law enforcement officer, has made global headlines recently for his role in the capture and return of fugitive “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch.
Anderson, who has been sheriff since 2001, faces challenger Bill Waybourn, former Dalworthington Gardens police chief. Waybourn touts his establishment of DWI non-refusals in Dalworthington Gardens in 2005.
Anderson, who co-founded the Amber Alert program during his tenure with the Arlington police department, is running on his record of long-time stable management.
As of Feb. 1, Anderson reported contributions of about $27,000 compared to Waybourn’s more than $57,000.
Anderson’s supporters include District Attorney Sharen Wilson, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley.
Waybourn’s backers include actor Chuck Norris, former Gov. Rick Perry, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams and Mansfield Mayor David Cook.
Taya Kyle, serving as Waybourn’s treasurer, has praised Waybourn for his conservative values, honoring veterans and keeping families safe. “That is why he is the only man Chris wanted to work for.”
Waybourn also has the support of the NE Tarrant Tea Party and its backers.
Among the Tarrant County judicial races, the contest for the 96th Judicial District Court, has also become a race targeted by conservatives. Attorney Traci Hutton of Grapevine is trying to unseat incumbent R.H. Wallace.
Hutton’s supporters include Texas Right to Life and Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Irving). Hutton is challenging Wallace for his decision to not appoint a guardian for the unborn child of Marlise Munoz, who was 14 weeks pregnant when she was declared brain dead at John Peter Smith Hospital in 2013. Wallace ordered the hospital to remove Munoz from life-support at the wishes of the family in January 2014.
Wallace was appointed to the bench by Perry in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. He has the support of many Fort Worth attorneys and reported contributions of $35,500 and available cash of $51,069 as of Feb. 1.
Hutton reported contributions of $1,435 and a loan of $21,000 on Feb. 1.