With the Texas state primary just days away, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst is in the lead to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate, and according to some observers, one of the factors he has working in his favor is fear.
In Texas, the lieutenant governorship is a hugely powerful position. Its occupant is the leader of the state senate, meaning he appoints committee chairmen and members, determines the order in which bills are taken up, and decides which committees get to handle specific pieces of legislation.
At the very least, everyone has to be aware of the sway Dewhurst will have if he remains lieutenant governor. And according to state insiders backing Dewhurst’s most prominent rival, former state solicitor general Ted Cruz, it goes beyond that: They say the Dewhurst campaign has made it clear that those who want to see their legislation pass if Dewhurst remains lieutenant governor had better back Dewhurst for senate. The Dewhurst campaign denies this categorically.
One source familiar with Texas politics who supports Cruz says that he knows “a number of significant donors” who also have business interests in the state and have been “told by their lobbyists in Austin, ‘Don’t dare give money to Ted, don’t endorse Ted . . . because if you do you’ll never get anything else through in Austin.’”
A former head of a major industry group who supports Cruz says that the Dewhurst campaign emphasized to trade associations in the state that Dewhurst expects a donation from them. And the subtext was clear: Dewhurst was “keeping a list [of] who didn’t support him or contribute.”
“There is absolutely an atmosphere citywide here in Austin that if you have business before the legislature, you better think twice before you give money to anybody running against Dewhurst, specifically Ted Cruz, because you might end up with a horse head at the end of your bed,” says an Austin lawyer who supports Cruz, referencing The Godfather.
“If you or your client have any legislative agenda whatsoever, there’s always fear of retribution. And so nobody can get out there and publicly support Ted,” says a registered lobbyist in Austin who supports Cruz.
“Anyone with a stake in the next legislative session, from lobbyists all the way up to the governor, have to worry about [what will happen if Dewhurst remains lieutenant governor], because if they cross Dewhurst, they can pretty much forget about their legislative agenda,” says a second source familiar with Texas politics who supports Cruz.
“That’s why even natural allies of Ted Cruz, such as Governor Perry, have little choice but to endorse Dewhurst,” the source adds. “That’s the power of the establishment, and it’s a real test of the conservative movement’s strength.”
The Dewhurst campaign rejects the claims. “This [is] a ridiculous allegation that doesn’t merit a response,” e-mails Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch. “It’s a fantasy being cooked up by a desperate and flailing Cruz campaign.”
Matt Mackowiak, a Texas Republican strategist who backs Cruz, agrees that Dewhurst could easily have an impact on companies. “If you are prominent Texas businessperson who has interests before the state legislature, looking at this in purely political terms, Dewhurst is more dangerous to you if you oppose him and he loses than if you oppose him and he wins,” Mackowiak says.
“I’m not going to claim it’s been explicit, but I do think Dewhurst has been effective at taking advantage of that difficult political reality,” he adds.
JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America: We the People — an organization that has endorsed Ted Cruz — says she encountered concerns about Dewhurst when she was trying to persuade two state senators to refrain from endorsing him. “I was asking them to please just to stay out of it, and let the people decide,” Fleming, who is also the chairman of the Tea Party Caucus’s advisory committee, recounts. “They just say, ‘Well, you know, the way it works, if you want something done, you play the game.’” Fleming says she is not aware of those senators’ having endorsed yet, but she won’t be surprised if they do in the next several days.
A Texas GOP operative says that Texans are right to be concerned about the impact of going against Dewhurst: “Dewhurst single-handedly can kill a piece of legislation with just a wave of thumb.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.