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Tarrant County’s Republican county judge backs Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger

By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune

Tarrant County’s Republican county judge backs Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, one of Texas’ most prominent Republican local leaders, is backing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger.

“The one person who I’ll support statewide that will get me a little in trouble: Mike Collier for lieutenant governor,” Whitley said on Y’all-itics, a WFAA politics podcast.

Whitley and Patrick have frequently clashed, and on the podcast Whitley slammed Patrick for waging “war on local elected officials.” He said the GOP incumbent limited property taxes, a major source of revenue for local governments.

Patrick shepherded a bill in 2019 that meant to slow the growth of Texans’ property tax bills. The bill requires many cities, counties and other taxing units to hold an election if they wish to raise 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year, not counting the growth added by new construction.

Meanwhile, Whitley said Tarrant County jails are housing more than 700 inmates that should be in state custody without additional funding from the state. The COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to make jail transfers contributed to state inmates being held in county jails, Community Impact reported.

“We’re paying 20 million plus a year because the state is not paying anything and yet they’re sitting down there talking about all the cash that they’ve got,” Whitley said.

Patrick responded on Twitter to the endorsement by calling Whitley and Collier “two-of-a-kind, tax hiking, big spenders.” He said Texans were being taxed out of their homes because of big spending from local governments like Whitley’s in Tarrant County.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Republican from Lubbock and one of the architects of the property tax bill, said Whitley’s endorsement of Collier was reflective of “his contempt for people having the right to vote on excessive property tax increases.”

Whitley is not seeking reelection this year. The potential successor he backed in 2022, former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, lost to a Patrick-endorsed opponent, Tim O’Hare.

Whitley said he is backing Collier because of Collier’s experience controlling budgets. Collier, an accountant and auditor from the Houston area, is a self-described “numbers guy.” Collier also worked as a landman for Exxon, which Whitley said indicated the Democratic nominee understood the oil business.

“And I just think he’s someone who understands local control. And that’s what I’m looking for,” added Whitley, who as county judge is the county’s top elected official and administrator. “We do everything. We’re the front door for basically all the federal and the state services that the state and the federal government passed laws for us to do.”

The Texas lieutenant governor oversees the state’s 31-member Senate, making him the most powerful elected official in the Texas Legislature. The officeholder can dictate much of the state’s policy by influencing which bills move forward and which ones are halted.

Though Tarrant County has had a Republican judge at its helm for 15 years, it has turned purple in recent years. The county narrowly voted for Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz in 2018 and for Joe Biden over former president Donald Trump in 2020.

The lieutenant governor race in November is a rematch from 2018, when Collier went head-to-head with Patrick and lost by 4.8 percentage points. In Tarrant County, Collier lost to Patrick by 3.2 percentage points. A Democrat has not won statewide office since 1994.

Whitley’s displeasure with Patrick has been well documented for years. Whitley has said Patrick, as lieutenant governor, has a “stranglehold over what goes to the governor’s desk” and is driving Gov. Greg Abbott to the far right.

After the 2020 election, Patrick criticized Whitley and Tarrant County for its handling of faulty mail-in ballots due to defective bar codes. Whitley told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Patrick should keep his nose out of local government.

Collier jumped on Whitley’s comments to promote them Sunday as a call to moderate Republicans, which he said Tarrant County is rich with. Collier also recently released a radio and digital ad across West Texas called “Not a Good Republican” that attacks Patrick.

“We may be of different parties but we both care deeply about the people of Texas,” Collier said in a statement about Whitley. “And as Lt. Governor, I will be a partner with our cities and counties so that we can build a state where our children can have dreams as big as Texas.”

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