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Ousted Rep. Bryan Slaton’s tarnished legacy looms over special election to replace him

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Ousted Rep. Bryan Slaton’s tarnished legacy looms over special election to replace him” 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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Before the Texas House voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton earlier this year, its members expelled state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City.

And while Paxton’s impeachment has dominated the news, voters in Slaton’s district are preparing to pick his replacement in a November special election in which his tarnished legacy is unavoidable.

Multiple GOP candidates are promising to restore trust in House District 2 after a lower-chamber committee found Slaton engaged in sexual misconduct with an aide. One candidate, pitching himself as the “leading conservative,” is welcoming endorsements from former boosters of Slaton, a far-right agitator who in 2020 unseated Republican Rep. Dan Flynn, who died in October.

The candidate, Brent Money, has rejected attempts to link the support to Slaton, but the endorsements have caught the attention of local Republicans leery of Slaton’s politics.

“This isn’t about Slaton or Flynn,” Money said in a recent Facebook comment. “It’s about me.”

The Nov. 7 election features at least half a dozen Republicans — and more could emerge before the Sept. 6 filing deadline. The winner will finish Slaton’s term, which ends in January 2025.

The mostly rural district in Northeast Texas is deeply conservative, though at least one Democrat, Kristen Washington, is also running.

Among the Republicans, Money, a Greenville lawyer, and Jill Dutton, president of the Republican Women of Van Zandt County, have stood out for their fundraising and endorsements. Both have boasted long lists of supporters, though on social media, Money has specifically highlighted endorsements from True Texas Project, Texas Right to Life and Doc Collins, all vocal supporters of Slaton in the past.

Money defended his endorsements in a statement.

“For my entire adult life, the voters of House District 2 have had to decide between a conservative fighter or an effective pragmatist, and for my entire adult life, I’ve been both,” Money said. “As a result, I’ve gotten a lot of support from across the Republican political spectrum, including endorsements of over 500 people in my district and over $105,000 in political contributions, almost exclusively from people I knew before this campaign began.”

He added he was “proud” to have the support of True Texas Project, Texas Right to Life and Collins.

Collins was also a candidate in the 2020 primary for the seat and supported Slaton in a runoff against Flynn. As initial details emerged about the Slaton situation in early April, Collins sent an email to local Republicans emphasizing that Slaton was innocent until proven guilty and asking them to “let all the facts come to light before making conclusions.” At the same time, Collins said he “would not count out the possibility that [Slaton’s] enemies organized a hit on his reputation in order to silence him.”

About a month later, the House General Investigating Committee released a report finding Slaton had sex with a 19-year-old aide after getting her drunk. The House unanimously voted to expel Slaton days later.

In an interview, Dutton did not criticize Money for the endorsements but made clear she was running to turn the page on the Slaton era. She said he “put a stain on our district” and that almost every Republican she talked to withdrew their support for Slaton once they learned the findings that led to his expulsion.

“This election is about electing someone who can restore trust and integrity to that seat,” Dutton said.

Another candidate, Doug Roszhart, was more direct about Money’s support.

“It very much concerns me because it seems like we’re going down the same path,” said Roszhart, vice chair of the Hunt County GOP. He added he hears “all the time” that voters are looking for a clean break from Slaton.

John Seago, president of Texas Right to Life, said the group backed Money because he is the “most conservative [candidate] in the race who actually has a viable campaign.” But Seago also acknowledged Slaton’s downfall is an issue that candidates have to address.

“I don’t think you can ignore Slaton … because this was such a unique situation and because his moral failures were so publicized and so awful,” Seago said. “Everyone running in this race has to be very straightforward that when public officials represent a district, it’s not just a matter of their votes, it’s a matter of their character.”

Beyond the Slaton issue, the crowded field offers additional intrigue for primary voters, including support for Gov. Greg Abbott. Days before Abbott’s contested primary in February 2022, Money called Abbott “weak and spineless” in a tweet comparing him to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Abbott uses a wheelchair due to a 1984 freak accident that crushed his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down. Money’s tweet has since been deleted.

Asked about the tweet, Money said he supported Abbott “overall” but acknowledged he has had differences with him.

“I disagreed with him in the past for his approach to COVID shutdowns and for not taking more decisive action on the border, but he’s one of the best governors in the country, and I will continue working with him to make a freer and more conservative Texas,” Money said in a statement.

Dutton said she has “strongly supported” Abbott over the years.

The other announced Republican candidates include Heath Hyde, Krista Schild and Kenneth Neal Barker.

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