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Influential conservative PAC wades into Texas Legislature primaries

By Zach Despart, The Texas Tribune

Influential conservative PAC wades into Texas Legislature primaries” 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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The conservative attack on Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is getting reinforcements from a high-profile national group that typically focuses on congressional races.

Club For Growth, a political action committee that raises money for hard-right federal candidates, on Tuesday announced it had spent $4 million on a TV ad targeting five Texas House Republican incumbents facing runoffs.

The group will air a 30-second spot that calls Phelan “unwaveringly liberal” and a “Democrat in disguise.” It also takes aim at Reps. Gary Vandeaver of New Boston, Justin Holland of Rockwall, John Kuempel of Sequin and DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, who all voted against school vouchers.

“From failing to support school choice to allowing radical liberal Democrats to chair committees, Speaker Phelan is a certified RINO with a long record, and he will be held accountable by the voters in the runoff,” said David McIntosh, president of Club for Growth’s Super PAC.

Club for Growth’s focus has traditionally been focused on congressional races. The group is a major supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz, and has committed to spending $10 million in his reelection race against U.S. Rep. Colin Allred.

But in March, Club for Growth announced it had jointly raised eight figures, along with Gov. Greg Abbott and AFC Victory Fund to get involved in state House runoffs over school vouchers, which would allow public dollars to follow Texas students to private and religious schools.

“You can no longer consider yourself a conservative if you oppose school freedom,” McIntosh said at the time. “We are proud that AFC Victory Fund and Governor Abbott’s team are allies in our united goal to win these runoffs in Texas and remove these so-called ‘republicans’ from office.”

Over two regular legislative sessions, the House under Phelan has passed some of the most conservative legislation in the chamber’s history, including allowing permitless carry of handguns and a near-total ban on abortion. Phelan has come under particular criticism from many within his party for the House’s failure last year to approve a school voucher bill favored by Abbott.

Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass, a school voucher supporter who contributed $6 million to Abbott’s campaign in December, is also a major donor to Club For Growth. Kuempel, VanDeaver, Holland and Burns all were among 21 Republicans who killed the governor’s voucher bill in November.

Abbott vowed revenge on the group and so far has gotten a taste. During the first round of primary voting last month, six anti-voucher Republicans who sought reelection lost outright.

Phelan told The Texas Tribune in January that he would have preferred a voucher bill to pass the House. But that admission was not enough to save him from a runoff, where many voters in his district were also upset that he supported the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

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