Finance reports show battle brewing over 2014 lieutenant governor's race
Posted on January 21, 2013 at 7:39 PM
Updated Monday, Jan 21 at 7:41 PM
AUSTIN -- It's arguably the most powerful job in Texas. The lieutenant governor is both executive and legislator, able to directly shape policy and agendas as president of the Texas Senate.
In his 6th session holding the gavel, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has placed school choice and tax cuts among his top priorities for the 83rd Texas Legislature.
"I've passed legislation 51 times cutting taxes and fees over $14.5 billion," Dewhurst reminded conservatives last week at a luncheon for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. "And ladies and gentlemen, you will see more bills passed cutting taxes this session."
One of the state's best-known Republicans, Dewhurst returns to his job in the Senate Chamber after an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in which his conservative credentials were questioned by Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz.
"He's in some level of political rehabilitation," said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report.
The longtime Texas politics watcher warned that Dewhurst faces an uncertain re-election.
"It's very difficult to come back after the voters have rejected you," Kronberg said.
The latest finance reports show bank accounts readying for what could end up a four-way contest between some of the state's most prominent Republicans, and the policies pursued by each until then will play a part.
With a series of reports tracking taxpayer dollars entitled "Texas: It's Your Money," Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has focused on government transparency.
"Some folks just don't think it's anybody else's business, and yet it's always the taxpayers' business," Combs said after unveiling the final report of the series in December.
According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Combs' campaign reported ending 2012 with $7.3 million on hand. Kronberg said Combs benefits both from a significant war chest and a broad appeal among a critical demographic.
"We're talking about a female vote," Kronberg said. "But she's got problems based on changing positions on abortion in the past. The most colorful candidate is of course Jerry Patterson. He's well known among the Republican base."
As Texas Land Commissioner, Patterson has championed gun rights as well as promoting a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants. His idea of a "Texas Solution" was ultimately incorporated as part of the 2012 platform of the Republican Party of Texas.
"It enhances our national and state security," Patterson told KVUE in August. "It helps our economy. It collects more taxes. It eliminates the underground economy of cash payment for folks who never pay withholding. It's just a no-brainer."
Despite reporting just over $1 million on hand through December 31, 2012, Patterson enjoys Tea Party support.
Kronberg said Patterson has been able to win competitive races without significant spending, but warns against drawing too many comparisons to Cruz.
"Cruz was a lucky candidate in one regard, in that we had a delayed primary," Kronberg said. "That gave him several additional months to build name ID and he had outside money coming from [Washington] D.C. that was enough to at least give him some traction. But you should never underestimate the power of money."
With just over $2 million on hand, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has staked his turf on border security.
"We will stand up, we will defend our borders," Staples told KVUE in June. "And we will make certain that we will not concede or yield to these violent drug cartel members."
With just under $2 million left in his war chest, Dewhurst still has personal wealth and popularity, and perhaps more importantly, control. Of the four, Combs is the only one who has yet to officially announce her intentions for 2014.