TEXAS VIEW: Middle-of-the-road Texans lost big in runoff

THE POINT: Texas political drama leaves moderate Texans wanting.

If last Tuesday’s runoffs told us anything, it’s that the political middle of the Republican and Democratic parties in Texas is an endangered species.

That is the most compelling takeaway from last Tuesday’s primary runoff contests. Incumbent Ken Paxton’s victory over Land Commissioner George P. Bush in the GOP runoff for attorney general, for example, underscores the inability of Texas GOP moderates to bench the party’s most divisive elements. And on the Democratic side, runoff results for lieutenant governor and attorney general reflect an intense struggle between the party’s moderate and progressive wings.

If ever primary voters had cause to reject a controversial incumbent it would have been Paxton, who has been under indictment on securities fraud charges since mid-2015 and under a FBI investigation stemming from accusations from senior officials in his office about his connections to an Austin real estate developer and donor. Yet, just days after Sen. John Cornyn labeled Paxton’s legal and ethical troubles an embarrassment to the office and the state, GOP voters overwhelmingly backed Paxton, a man who has embodied the politics of grievance and division.

Paxton is vulnerable in the general election, but Democrats may have squandered their best chance to show him the door. In the Democratic runoff for attorney general, Rochelle Garza, a civil rights attorney from Brownsville, pulled together a grass-roots coalition of progressive groups to defeat Joe Jaworski, an attorney and former Galveston mayor. Jaworski leaned closer to the Democratic Party’s center than Garza and had the potential to attract GOP voters dissatisfied with Paxton had he made it through his party’s primary gauntlet. Democratic voters did better in the race for lieutenant governor, where Houston accountant Mike Collier, a political moderate, defeated progressive state Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, an outspoken but unremarkable lawmaker. Collier’s win sets the stage for a fall rematch against Republican incumbent Dan Patrick, who narrowly defeated him in 2018.

So what can voters look forward to in the fall? There will be clear ideological choices in most statewide races, which GOP candidates have dominated since the mid-1990s. However, those choices are less likely to represent the more nuanced views of moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans who embrace competent leadership and practical solutions to the issues that most impact Texans every day. And there is a long list of those: improving health care, reducing poverty, and promoting educational and economic opportunities that enable more Texans to thrive in the middle class. When the political extremes win, each party becomes less inclusive, less bipartisan and less inclined to seek solutions that require compromise, collective leadership and outreach. And for that, we all pay a price.

Dallas Morning News