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Houston Rep. Lacey Hull defeats Paxton-backed Jared Woodfill in GOP primary

By Robert Downen, The Texas Tribune

Houston Rep. Lacey Hull defeats Paxton-backed Jared Woodfill in GOP primary” 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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Houston Rep. Lacey Hull has prevailed in the Republican primary against Jared Woodfill, a prominent anti-gay activist who was backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton and other Republican leaders despite his role in an ongoing sex abuse scandal.

The Associated Press called the race for Hull around 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, as she led Woodfill with 61.6% of votes.

Hull ran a quiet campaign that touted her voting record on abortion, increased penalties for voter fraud and support for a wall and the installation of razor wire at the border. Since joining the Texas House in 2021, she has consistently been ranked as one of the body’s most conservative members based on voting records.

But her vote to impeach Paxton last year made her a target of the attorney general and his allies who, in the wake of his acquittal by the Texas Senate, promised scorched-earth retribution campaigns against those who voted for impeachment. Woodfill helped fundraise for the attorney general’s legal defense last summer, and during the primaries framed Hull as a “Republican In Name Only” for supporting impeachment.

Woodfill’s campaign — and its endorsement by Paxton, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi — was perhaps the most controversial in a particularly heated primary season that has deepened Republican fissures over the impeachment, school voucher programs and the broader direction of the Texas GOP.

Woodfill entered the race while still involved in a high-profile lawsuit that accused his former law partner, Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler, of decades of rape. Woodfill was also accused of enabling Pressler’s behavior and, in a deposition last year, acknowledged that he continued to pay young men to work out of Pressler’s home for years despite being told in 2004 that Pressler had sexually abused a child. Before the lawsuit was settled late last year, a 2017 email was also unearthed in which one of Pressler’s aides — who was being paid by Woodfill — warned that the religious leader was a pedophile.

Woodfill led the Harris County Republican Party from 2002 to 2014 and has for years been at the helm of anti-LGBTQ+ and other hardline conservative movements in Houston and Texas. He is also a longtime associate of Steven Hotze, an extreme anti-gay conservative powerbroker who has pushed false claims about widespread voter fraud and, with Woodfill’s help, filed lawsuits challenging COVID-19 mandates.

Woodfill-related scandals also plagued two other major primaries this year: In Harris County, democratic District Attorney Kim Ogg faced questions over her office’s closing of a 2017 fraud investigation into Woodfill; and Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine was criticized for not recusing himself when the court ruled on the Pressler lawsuit in 2022 — despite working for Woodfill and Pressler’s law firm at the time that two former employees said they were abused.

Ogg lost on Tuesday to Democrat Sean Teare, while Devine was deadlocked with his challenger, Second District Court of Appeals Judge Brian Walker, as of early Wednesday morning.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/03/05/texas-republican-primary-lacey-hull-jared-woodfill/.

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