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Northeast Texas voters to pick replacement for expelled state Rep. Bryan Slaton

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Northeast Texas voters to pick replacement for expelled state Rep. Bryan Slaton” 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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Voters in northeast Texas are heading to the polls Tuesday in a special election for a state House seat that features Republican candidates from warring factions of the party.

The special election for House District 2 will determine who succeeds former state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, who was expelled by his colleagues in May. Five Republicans and one Democrat are on the ballot for the ruby-red seat, but most drama has focused on two GOP candidates, Jill Dutton and Brent Money.

Money has the backing of Defend Texas Liberty PAC, the far-right group that has been under fire after its then-president hosted white supremacist Nick Fuentes at his office for more than six hours last month. Dutton is supported by allies of House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who has been working hard to marginalize Defend Texas Liberty in the fallout from the Fuentes meeting.

The contest is the first state-level election since the Texas Senate acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial in September. Defend Texas Liberty is a top ally of Paxton, and Money opposed his May impeachment in the House. Dutton has been more careful on the topic, saying she “respect[s] the process” that unfolded in both chambers.

Money is a Greenville lawyer who previously served on the City Council there, while Dutton is the former president of the Republican Women of Van Zandt. The rest of the GOP field includes Heath Hyde, a Sulphur Springs attorney who has campaigned as the only GOP contender who opposes school vouchers, a major issue in the Legislature this year.

The other two GOP candidates are Doug Roszhart, vice chair of the Hunt County GOP, and Krista Schild, a Hunt County precinct chair. The sole Democratic candidate is Kristen Washington, another former member of the Greenville City Council.

The winner will finish Slaton’s term, which goes until January 2025. Depending on whether the race goes to a runoff, the winner could be sworn in in time for the anticipated fourth special session — or possible subsequent special sessions — as lawmakers continue to try to break gridlock over education issues.

The House unanimously voted to expel Slaton in May after a committee investigation found the married lawmaker got a 19-year-old intern drunk and had sex with her.

Money consolidated supporters from Slaton’s former backers early on, but the intraparty divide exploded after Paxton’s acquittal and the Fuentes controversy.

Beside Defend Texas Liberty, Money’s biggest endorsements include Paxton and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, while Dutton has been backed by former Gov. Rick Perry and leadership-aligned groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Associated Republicans of Texas.

Hyde has stood out for boasting the support of the Texas Farm Bureau.

Dutton has had a large financial advantage. On the latest campaign finance reports, covering Sept. 29 through Oct. 28, Dutton reported $235,000 in contributions, while Money had $59,000. Ninety percent of Dutton’s money came from Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Associated Republicans of Texas, while 61% of Money’s money came from Defend Texas Liberty.

Dutton’s campaign has made an issue out of Defend Texas Liberty’s involvement in the race, running a radio ad that calls out “Brent Money and his Neo-Nazi-affiliated backers Defend Texas Liberty.” And on Friday, Dutton touted the endorsement of the Quinlan mayor in the district who switched sides over Money’s ties to the PAC.

Money has stayed quiet on the group and its recent scandal. The PAC has taken the lead in attacking Dutton, claiming that some of her campaign donors also donated to Beto O’Rourke and attacking her for voting to raise property taxes when she was a school board member for Van Independent School District.

Dutton’s attacks have also centered on Money’s criticism of former President Donald Trump over the years. Money gave an interview questioning Trump’s morals and conservatism in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and after the 2020 election, he sent out tweets suggesting Trump could not win again in 2024.

“President Trump is in many ways the most conservative President we’ve ever had, proving me wrong in my evaluation of him prior to his election,” Money wrote Friday on Facebook, adding that he voted for Trump in 2020 and he will “no doubt” support him in 2024.

Disclosure: Facebook, Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Texas Farm Bureau 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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