Lone Star State Launches Vital 2014 Primary Season

Image: Lone Star State Launches Vital 2014 Primary Season Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis and County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks voted on the first day of early voting for the March primary. (Landov)

Sunday, 02 Mar 2014 04:42 PM

By David A. Patten

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The 2014 election season officially gets underway Tuesday, when Texas voters go to the polls to cast their ballots in the nation’s first statewide primary.

Lone Star Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls to select their nominees for local, state, and national offices.

One of the most closely watched primary races is the battle between incumbent GOP Sen. John Cornyn and movement-conservative challenger Rep. Steve Stockman. Six other Republicans also are vying for the GOP nomination in that race.

A recent Human Events/Gravis Marketing poll shows Cornyn with a big lead over Stockman, 43 percent to 28 percent. But if Cornyn fails to win at least 50 percent of the vote, he will face a potentially dangerous run-off election in May.

Another closely watched race involves Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is running for re-election.

Polls indicate Dewhurst is in a close contest Sen. Dan Patrick for the GOP nomination. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson are drawing significant support in that race as well.

The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows Dewhurst leading Patrick 37 percent to 31 percent. Staples and Patterson are drawing 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively. The two top vote-getters will square off in the May runoff, if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote.

Whoever wins the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor will face state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio in November. Van de Putte is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Van de Putte will become the de facto running-mate of likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy R. Davis.

Davis is expected to face Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in the general election. Abbott is the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and polls show Abbott enjoying a double-digit lead over Davis. Davis gained notoriety last year with an 11-day filibuster that delayed legislation restricting abortions in Texas. That bill was eventually passed anyway.

One Texas GOP primary sure to be closely watched as a litmus test of the tea party’s strength will be for the Republican nomination to represent the Lone Star state’s 32nd Congressional District.

In that race, incumbent GOP Rep. Pete Sessions is facing a serious challenge from tea party favorite Katrina Pierson.Pierson’s tea party credentials are unquestioned. She spent five years on the steering committee for the Dallas Tea Party, is founder of the Garland Tea Party, and is a member of the advisory Committee Texas Tea Party Caucus.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has stopped just short of making an endorsement in the race, described Pierson as “an utterly fearless principled conservative.”

Pierson also has received endorsements from FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express, among other grass-roots conservative organizations.

But Pierson faces a formidable incumbent in Sessions. He is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, and is considered a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner.

Sessions has served in Congress since January 1997, and was the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2010 when the GOP tallied a net gain of 63 seats, and seized control of the House.

Ironically,  just four years later, the tea party movement that he successfully leveraged to seize control of the House is gunning to replace him.

There’s an important, controversial side-show of sorts in the March 4 Texas primary.

There’s a well-funded push by several Texas trial lawyers to unseat three incumbents on the Texas Supreme Court: Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Justice Jeff Brown, and Justice Phil Johnson.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have been restless in Texas ever since GOP Gov. Rick Perry signed comprehensive tort reform into law in 2003.

There’s no question that law has altered judicial outcomes in Texas. According to an Austin American Statesman analysis of Department of Insurance data, the annual number of medical malpractice cases resolved in Texas fell by almost 66 percent between 2003 and 2011. The average damage award declined 22 percent.

The trial lawyers, and the groups they support, are charging that the high court in Texas is protecting moneyed interests by overturning large damage awards granted by lower courts.

One of those groups is Balance PAC, which has formed two “voter information groups” in a bid to influence the Texas Supreme Court primary races. They are Texans for Justice and Hecht, No — a reference to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht.

The Wall Street Journal reports the trial attorneys aiming to unseat the three incumbent justices typically donate to Democratic candidates. They apparently see the GOP primaries as their best chance of shaking up the Texas judiciary, the newspaper reports.

Those groups are especially interested in unseating Chief Justice Hecht.

In January, the 64-year-old Hecht became the longest-serving justice in the Texas court’s history. He has received endorsements from Gov. Rick Perry and Sens. Cruz and Cornyn.

Hecht’s challenger in the primary is former state legislator Robert Talton.

The other judicial candidates receiving significant backing from the trial lawyers are Joe Pool, who is challenging Justice Brown, and appellate Justice Sharon McCally, who is taking on Justice Johnson.

Perry also endorsed the other two incumbent Supreme Court justices along with Hecht.

“They never have and never would legislate from the bench,” Perry said of Hecht, Brown, and Johnson. “Unfortunately, a few personal-injury trial lawyers are funding challengers in the Republican primaries of these judges. Clearly, these trial lawyers want to change the philosophical direction of our state’s highest court.”

The second state to hold a primary election this cycle will be Illinois, on March 18.


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