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Comptroller Glenn Hegar is reminding voters he’s a Republican ahead of his November election

Comptroller Glenn Hegar is reminding voters he’s a Republican ahead of his November election” 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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While other elected leaders battle over divisive issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights and gun policy, Republican Glenn Hegar has mostly avoided the drama, keeping a low profile as the state’s chief financial officer for nearly eight years.

But Hegar, 51, who is running for his third term as Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, has made increasingly provocative moves in recent weeks, challenging financial companies he says are anti-oil and gas and threatening budget sanctions against Harris County over law enforcement funding, among other attention-grabbing actions that align with GOP party planks.

The uncharacteristically high-profile moves come as the November election nears. Hegar is seeking reelection against Democrat Janet Dudding, an accountant. The race for comptroller is widely considered to be a low-information race for a powerful position overseeing a state budget that reached $265 billion for the 2022-23 biennium.

Hegar’s campaign said the comptroller is simply doing his job.

“He is working to continue his record of steady leadership that has shepherded the state’s economy through one of the most challenging periods in recent history,” Hegar’s campaign said in an emailed statement. “The timing of those actions was driven by statutory or procedural duties and deadlines.”

But some who are watching the political landscape in Texas say Hegar, who previously served in the state House and Senate, appears to be shoring up those grassroots — either to head off a weak showing this November, or to burnish his support for a future run at higher office.

Or maybe both.

“He’s sort of kept to himself until all of a sudden, and that tells me that he’s got plans and that he needs to overperform in that upcoming election so that he looks more viable as a candidate for higher office later on,” said Genevieve Van Cleve, who tracks Texas state political moves for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Raising his profile

The comptroller is the state’s chief tax collector, revenue estimator and check writer. Hegar’s most high-profile time, typically, is around the Legislature when he tells lawmakers how much money they’ll be able to spend in the next biennium.

Before he assumed the role of mild-mannered pencil pusher, Hegar was perhaps best known for his role defending his abortion restriction bill a decade ago when he was on the opposite side of Wendy Davis’ famous Senate filibuster.

Hegar was unavailable to be interviewed for this story, said his campaign spokesperson, who would not comment on whether Hegar plans to seek higher office in 2026 if he wins his November race.

“A lifetime can happen between now and then,” spokesperson Chris Bryan said in an email. “The Comptroller hasn’t been elected to his third term yet. That and ensuring he continues to support those fighting to keep Texas a beacon of freedom and economic prosperity are his campaign priorities.”

Despite the importance of Hegar’s office, it’s hard to get attention in the race during the current political climate of aggression, high emotion and division without speaking directly to the base on issues that grab them, said Hans Klingler, a political consultant who was communications and political director for the Republican Party of Texas when Hegar was in the Legislature.

“The environment rewards the aggressive,” Klingler said. “There is no way for you to just sit and talk about the framework of the comptroller’s office to a Republican grassroots voter. It doesn’t compute. They want red meat.”

Last week, the former Houston-area legislator waded into the “defund the police” debate when he threatened to choke off Harris County’s revenue streams as he accused officials of cutting funding for two constables’ offices. He cited a new state law that bans large cities from reducing budgets for law enforcement in most cases without voter consent.

The county said it had simply stopped allowing departments to roll over unspent budget dollars from the year before but that the budget was still increasing for the departments. County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, accused both Hegar and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of spreading lies.

A day after the threat to Harris County, Hegar banned 10 financial firms from doing business with the state after saying they “boycott” or do not publicly support the oil and gas industry and are therefore subject to state divestment statutes that forbid the state’s investment in those companies.

And the week before that, Hegar stood alongside Texas state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and proclaimed support for removing sales tax from feminine hygiene products — while Republicans nationwide have been under pressure from voters over their stances on women’s health in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Hegar’s rhetoric in public has become more pitched as well as he comments on social issues that aren’t always directly related to his office.

On social media and at grassroots events, he has intensified his attacks on President Joe Biden’s immigration policies, bashed student loan forgiveness, supported banning so-called critical race theory in schools, and described expanding broadband access as a way for churches to reach more people.

About two months ago, Hegar said protecting girls’ right to fair competition in school athletics was “a fight worth dying for” — a reference to a new law that bans transgender students from playing on sports teams that are at odds with their sex assigned at birth.

Bryan said Hegar’s stance on school sports and gender is personal because he has two daughters in school athletics and “feels the idea of boys, born biologically male, competing against girls is absolutely absurd.”

The border issue is also personal. Hegar owns land in a Texas-Mexico border county that is often used by undocumented immigrants and smugglers, he has said.

Dudding, who touts her credentials as a certified public accountant with 35 years of state and local governmental experience, recently accused Hegar of “political theater” and says the comptroller is “distracted” by aspirations of higher office.

“The office shouldn’t be partisan at all, and it appears that he is following the directions of the governor and the lieutenant governor, and the other Republican elected officials,” Dudding said.

But Dudding has woven some Democratic politics into her own platform.

Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana would bring in an estimated $1 billion and save hundreds of millions, she says. Converting methane emissions on state land into energy could save billions in costs caused by climate-related disasters, she argues.

She pushes for Medicaid expansion, wants to address rising taxes and corporate welfare, and supports better pay for teachers.

Hegar touts his work on lowering taxes and expanding broadband in Texas, reforming the tax code, reducing regulations on agriculture and pushing for government transparency.

His campaign site also discusses his belief in religious liberty, his support as a legislator for gun rights and his record on anti-abortion legislation.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Dudding has just under $17,000 on hand in her campaign treasury. Hegar has more than $8.5 million.

Next steps

Hegar’s name has been floated in political circles as a potential future candidate for U.S. Senate or even lieutenant governor, as Dan Patrick has indicated he likely won’t run for reelection in 2026.

But while the comptroller is, observers say, a good testing and training ground for offices like the secretary of state, lieutenant governor or governor, or a job in Washington, D.C., it hasn’t historically been an effective jumping-off point.

Aside from Bob Bullock, a former comptroller who went on to be lieutenant governor, no other Texas comptroller has achieved higher office after holding the position since former state senator and Comptroller Lon Smith made the leap to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1924.

And after 20 years in public office, Hegar is still a stranger to many Texans. A July poll conducted by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston found that two-thirds of the respondents didn’t know enough about Hegar to form an opinion of him.

“The comptroller’s office as a political lily pad? It’s tough. The Texas political road is strewn with former comptrollers,” Klingler said.

But if Hegar’s recent actions are any indicator, he’s preparing for prime time, observers say.

Election season brings a rare opportunity for Hegar, who is normally looked at to discuss taxes and the economy, to remind the socially conservative base that he’s more than just a numbers guy, Klingler said — that he’s actually one of them.

“In Texas, you can wake up one morning and things seem to be chugging along and then somebody makes a move, and then boom. You’ve got to be ready when the dominoes fall,” Klingler said. “I would be stunned if Glenn was not ready for whatever that opportunity is.”

Disclosure: The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Hobby School of Public Affairs and the University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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