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Frustration boils as Gov. Greg Abbott, AG Ken Paxton target GOP incumbents

By Karen Brooks Harper, The Texas Tribune

Frustration boils as Gov. Greg Abbott, AG Ken Paxton target GOP incumbents” 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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State Rep. Glenn Rogers is mad as hell, and he’s not being shy about it.

“Kiss my ass!” he recently told a statewide Republican official who had endorsed his primary opponent.

“Beware of this belligerent run on power,” he warned his followers on social media.

The Graford Republican is quoting Winston Churchill, calling out “grandiose lies” by his well-funded primary opponent, Mike Olcott, and challenging Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller to a duel in a text message as he seeks to hang onto his House seat.

“You are a bought and paid for, pathetic narcissist,” read the January text, which Miller promptly posted on X. “If you had any honor, you would challenge me, or any of my Republican colleagues to a duel instead of strutting around posting pictures with a rifle threatening to shoot RINOS [Republicans in Name Only]. … Kiss my ass!”

Locked in a vicious fight for a third term in a repeat bout with a fellow Republican he barely beat in 2022, Rogers is the new poster child for righteous indignation in a primary season that has deeply divided Texas conservatives.

He’s among a group of Republicans facing heat from big names in their party in a primary that has pitted former allies against each other, prompted big spending and left a pile of hurt feelings in its wake. Incumbents like Rogers have become targets over two key votes last year: on whether to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton and whether to allow school vouchers. Many feel those attacks ignore conservative records built up over years.

Rogers is facing conservative backlash on both. Since he was first elected in 2020, he has voted against the creation of a private school voucher program, a priority issue for GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. The proposal would have diverted state funds to private or church schools for parents who want to exit the public school system and want help paying for part of tuition. The resistance of 21 Republicans, most of them rural, led to the repeated failure of the proposal last year.

Advocates have said the public schools in Rogers’ House District 60, a mostly rural area west of Fort Worth covering Palo PInto, Stephens and Parker counties, would lose more than $3 million if vouchers were to pass.

And like the majority of his fellow House Republicans, Rogers supported the impeachment of Paxton on charges of bribery and unfitness for office. In the months since he was acquitted by the Senate, Paxton has campaigned hard against the GOP lawmakers who accused him of corruption.

Now Rogers has found himself in the crosshairs of just about any Republican with any official power in Texas — except for House Speaker Dade Phelan, who is facing his own well-funded GOP primary opponent in Beaumont. In addition to Abbott, Paxton and Miller, Olcott has the support of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi. On Tuesday, he received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

That has been frustrating for Rogers, who called the governor’s recent decision to endorse his pro-voucher opponent “a single-issue endorsement” in an interview with a local CBS station. The endorsement ignored his efforts to fight for his district and ignored his voting record, he said.

“It doesn’t seem to matter about the integrity of the candidate, what their legislative productivity is,” he said. “It’s simply, ‘Do you support vouchers and I’ll endorse you.’ I think that’s unprecedented. I’ve been a very strong supporter of his, and we differ on this one issue, and he’s chosen to endorse my opponent.”

Other Abbott and Paxton targets are similarly upset.

Rep. Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd, lamented the governor’s “vindictive nature” against Republicans he said were simply trying to represent their constituents’ best interests.“Governor Abbott is expending an astronomical amount of resources this campaign cycle, in order to unseat members who serve their districts, instead of his will,” Bailes wrote in a Facebook post Monday. “He made one trip to my district last week and [is] coming back again later this month, in order to do his absolute best to make sure that our next representative is someone who has sworn fielty to his agenda, rather than that of representing this district.”

Abbott does indeed have plenty of resources to expend. He received a $6 million donation in December from Jeff Yass, a national Republican megadonor whose priority issues include school vouchers. His campaign called it the “largest single donation in Texas history” and set it aside in a separate account he has used to target voucher opponents.

At the turn of the year, Abbott reported more than $38 million cash on hand overall.

“Governor Abbott has the resources needed to back strong conservative candidates who support his bold agenda to keep Texas the greatest state in the nation, including expanding school choice for all Texas families and students,” Texans for Greg Abbott Campaign Manager Kim Snyder said in January.

In some cases, Abbott’s and Paxton’s focus on single issues has pitted them against each other in primaries.

Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, opposed vouchers, but also opposed impeachment, earning him the backing of Paxton. That forced Paxton to defend himself from backlash from many conservative voucher supporters on X.

“I’m not ashamed at all. Travis Clardy took a lot of bullets to stand up for me,” Paxton wrote. “However, you feel about him, he stood with me and the voters of Texas, and I appreciate that.”

Meanwhile, Clardy had harsh words for Abbott, who endorsed him in past races, but has now come out strongly against him for his anti-voucher vote.

“Threatening and bullying is not effective leadership,” Clardy told the Texas Monthly last year. “I think you can go over and review the entire lexicon of Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar and not find bullying and threatening as a desired tactic. But here we are. And I don’t get it.”

In fact, Abbott is opposing multiple candidates who he has supported in the past. Many of those candidates have pointed to those old endorsements, in some cases posting quotes from the governor on their campaign websites. That has led Abbott to send a series of cease and desist letters accusing candidates of falsely suggesting they have his support this year.

Abbott’s past support for Rogers came up earlier this month when he stumped for Olcott.

“I was wrong,” Abbott said. “When you make a mistake, it’s one thing to admit it. It’s another thing to step up and correct that mistake.”

For his part, Olcott is running far from a one-issue campaign. On his website, Olcott lists beefing up border security, cutting property taxes and “election integrity” among his top issues. Vouchers get a shout-out near the bottom of his “key issues” page.

Rogers supported recent efforts to boost border security spending and cut taxes in the last legislative session. He cosponsored an anti-abortion bill from 2021 that Olcott praises on his website.

Asked by a local CBS station why he was challenging Rogers, Olcott said they live in a heavily conservative district and that “my values better reflect the values of this district.”

This week, he said he was “floored” to gain Trump’s support.

“Let’s go win this!” Olcott proclaimed on X.

Both Olcott and Roger declined multiple requests for comment for this story.

The impact of the prominent opposition remains to be seen. As of the end of January, Rogers held a financial advantage over Olcott in the race, with more cash on hand and much less in outstanding loans. With the primary less than two weeks away, the bulk of the money raising and spending is happening now and won’t be disclosed until a week before the election.

Both men spent about $150,000 in the first three weeks of January. But Rogers supporters say the reports don’t show the true nature of the spending against him.

“We are getting absolutely bombarded by the pro-voucher political action committees outside the district,” said Amy Fennell, a former Willow Park City Council member and a member of Bearcats for Glenn Rogers. “They are extremely well funded, and they only care about vouchers. That’s literally the only thing they care about.”

Olcott raised $229,415 since last July, according to the Texas Ethics Commission, with 40% of those donations coming in January. Half of his January donations, nearly $50,000, came from small contributions by individuals. The other half is almost exclusively composed of $42,000 in ads paid for by Abbott’s campaign.

Among the PACs supporting Olcott is the Family Empowerment Coalition PAC, which is helping pro-voucher candidates throughout Texas and spent $9,000 on digital advertising for Olcott on Jan. 9. He’s also had the support of the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which put up anti-Rogers billboards in June, and later came under after The Texas Tribune reported in October that its then-president, Jonathan Stickland, hosted notorious white supremacist and Adolf Hitler admirer Nick Fuentes at his office for nearly seven hours. Olcott also has the support of Texans for a Conservative Majority, created by the same funders after Defend Texas Liberty curbed its political activity in the wake of the Fuentes scandal.

Rogers had spent $484,556 since July. He’s raised $545,616 since July, with 36% of that money coming in last month.

He has received significant financial support from Phelan’s campaign, which donated $25,000 last month, $15,000 late last year and contributed advertising. He also received major donations from the Charles Butt Public Education PAC, the Texas Medical Association, and HillCo partners, a powerful Austin lobbying firm.

Rogers also has the endorsement of the Associated Republicans of Texas, a 50-year-old political group that has endorsed most of the targeted Republicans in the House primaries and had upwards of $3 million cash on hand last month.

Jamie McWright, president of the organization, said the group’s focus is to elect pro-business Republicans that represent their districts and can win in a general election against a Democrat.

“There is no litmus test, there is no scorecard, there is no conservative ranking for us,” McWright said. “We really do look for business-minded conservatives who want to come to Austin and get things done. We believe in a big-tent Republican party, and winning where we can with Republicans.”

And while a healthy primary that forces discussion on the issues is nothing new in Texas politics, McWright said, it’s “extremely disheartening” that the especially divisive tenor of this cycle threatens to confuse and deter the participation of “thoughtful Republicans” in the entire process.

“I think you’ve got a lot of really good Republican voters who may end up staying home because they’re so confused,” she said. “And I think anytime we discourage people from voting, we’re hurting our own democracy. And that’s just a real shame.”

Disclosure: Charles Butt, the Texas Medical Association and Texas Monthly 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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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/21/glenn-rogers-texas-gop-primary/.

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