That Other Texas State Senator: Houston's Dan Patrick

July 4, 2013 1:21:15 PM PDT
Over the last ten days we have seen a new political star emerge in Texas: State Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Ms. Davis made all the national talk shows last Sunday morning, quite an achievement for a state legislator hardly known outside her district just two weeks ago. Senator Davis' eleven-hour filibuster, culminating in a late night spectacle on the floor of the Senate, made her an instant media star and may propel her into the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor. We'll get back to Wendy Davis in future blogs, but today I'd like to focus on one of her colleagues, Dan Patrick of Houston, who also made news by announcing his entry into the 2014 Republican Primary for Lt. Governor.

That is very bad news for the embattled incumbent, David Dewhurst, who had hoped to avoid a challenger from the hard right with Tea Party support. Last year Lt. Governor Dewhurst was heavily favored to replace the retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, but was trounced by Tea Party favorite, lawyer Ted Cruz, in the July 2012 GOP runoff. That defeat suggested Dewhurst, despite 15 years in statewide office, has still not established his bona fides with the hard core conservatives who dominate modern Republican Primaries.

Mr. Dewhurst hoped to correct that problem in the recent Special Session, by pressing Governor Perry to add restrictions on abortions to the legislative agenda. Perry obliged, but so late in the 30 day session that the minority Democrats could run out the clock and score a major, if short lived, PR victory that elevated Ms. Davis to national prominence. Dewhurst, presiding over the final night debate watched by 200,000 on live streaming from the Senate chamber, did not exactly impress folks with his indecisive and ultimately ineffective leadership.

Not only did his performance elevate Ms. Davis, not what the Governor and Lt. Governor had in mind, but it also encouraged Senator Patrick to cross the Rubicon and formally challenge his presiding officer in next year's primary. And that challenge is as serious as a heart attack. Dan Patrick, now in his early sixties, came into elective politics late, but the former sportscaster, restaurant owner, and radio talk show host showed his chops in the 2006 GOP primary in Harris County. Patrick jumped into the primary that year to replace a retiring state senator. Patrick faced three experienced political veterans who had won two dozen elections over the years. The field included Houston City Councilman Mark Ellis, the son-in-law of late Mayor Jim McConn, and veteran State Representatives Joe Nixon and Peggy Hamric.

Watching that race from the bleachers, I thought Patrick had a pretty good shot at making a runoff, mostly likely with Representative Hamric. To say I underestimated the new kid on the ballot would be putting it mildly as the March 7 election results below show.

March 7, 2006 Republican Primary for State Senate in Harris County

Mark Ellis: 2,548 6.1%
Joe Nixon: 3,632 8.7%
Dan Patrick: 28,874 68.8%
Peggy Hamric: 6,905 16.5%

The conservative talk-show host simply blew the field away, taking almost 70% of the total vote. The turnout only totaled about 40,000 out of the half-million plus registered voters in the district. And those few who did bother to vote seem disproportionately inclined to listen to folks on the radio like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and ? Dan Patrick.

That performance seven years ago is a very bad omen for Mr. Dewhurst, now coming off a performance widely panned across the state. The Lt. Governor, aware that Senator Patrick might pose a major threat in 2014, brought him into the Texas Senate Club in 2013 by appointing him Chair of the important Education Committee. That favor, or ploy, has failed in the intent was to keep the ambitious Houston Senator out of Dewhurst's reelection effort. Now the Lt. Governor has to decide: Retire from public office ? or face the serious risk of a second straight primary defeat in 2014.

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