Cruz and Abbott back opposing Texas House runoff candidates

Typically political allies, two of the state’s top Republicans have endorsed different candidates in six GOP primary races.

AUSTIN, Texas — Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz find themselves increasingly at odds as they try to shape the next Republican majority in the Texas House. They’re endorsing different candidates with different views on “school choice” in next month’s primary playoffs, the Texas Tribune reports.

In recent days, Cruz has endorsed five opponents of Abbott-backed candidates in the State House primary playoffs, all weeks after the governor announced his endorsement in each race.

Cruz had already endorsed a challenger for an Abbott-backed incumbent prior to the primary, making six total playoffs in which they are now opposed.

Dueling endorsements have raised eyebrows since Abbott and Cruz tend to align politically. But both are ambitious Republicans — each has left the door open to run for president in 2024 — and Cruz seems to show his well-documented affinity for candidates who support school choice, a term Republicans have been using ever since. several years to describe programs that give state parents money to send their children to schools outside of the state public education system.

“Sen. Cruz believes school choice is the nation’s most important national issue,” Cruz spokesman Steve Guest said in a statement. primary candidates who will fight for school choice across Texas.”

Most notably, Abbott and Cruz are opposing sides of two ballots in which the incumbents — state Reps. Kyle Kacal of College Station and Glenn Rogers of Graford — face challengers who would be reliable votes for the pick. from school. Abbott backed the starters while Cruz backed Ben Bius, who is challenging Kacal, and Mike Olcott, who is running against Rogers.

In a sign of how important the runoffs are to school choice advocates, a national group called the School Freedom Fund is launching television ads against Kacal and Rogers on Wednesday. The 30-Second spots denounce Kacal as the “most liberal Republican in the Texas House” and tell voters Rogers is “responsible for the education union bosses working against you,” referring to his support of groups like the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The School Freedom Fund – a super PAC affiliated with the Club for Growth, a national conservative group – said it was spending $220,000 in the Kacal-Bius runoff and $92,000 in the race between Rogers and Olcott. It airs the commercials on Fox News and radio stations.

“To oppose school choice is to stand on the wrong side of history,” School Freedom Fund President David McIntosh said in a statement.

Tension is also fueled by the fact that two of the Abbott-backed runoff candidates — Justin Berry in Home District 19 and Barron Casteel in Home District 73 — were endorsed in January by Texas AFT, a union that advocates of school choice see as an obstacle to their cause. Cruz endorsed both of their opponents – Ellen Troxclair, who is showing up against Berry, and Carrie Isaac, who is showing up against Casteel.

Cruz has spoken openly about his thinking when it comes to endorsements. In January he mentioned that if someone voted against the school’s choice, the chances of them getting their approval are “essentially nil”. And if anyone supports the school choice, Cruz added, they will consider “committing and committing hard.”

Abbott’s run-off endorsement strategy isn’t as obvious, and his choices have frustrated some school-choice activists. He was generally supportive of the concept and earlier this year he predicted that in the next legislative session, Texans will see a “stronger, faster, more powerful movement advocating for school choice than you have ever seen in the history of the state of Texas.”

Abbott’s picks in the second round are widely considered the most traditional Republicans in every game. And they come after Abbott withstood more than a year of searing criticism from his right – of his pandemic response and his legislative agenda – that ultimately culminated in a decisive victory in the March primaries.

“Governor Abbott supports the best candidates for office who will fight for the people of Texas, uphold our conservative values, and secure the future of our state for generations to come,” Abbott campaign spokeswoman Renae said. Eze, in a statement for this story.

The broad concept of school choice is popular among Texas Republicans. In the March primary, 88% of voters approved a ballot proposal asking voters if they agreed with the statement: “Parents and guardians in Texas should have the right to select schools, public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.

But the issue divides Republican lawmakers over school voucher programs, which would allow parents to use public money for private education. Rural Republicans are often the most vocal opponents, fearing such moves will hurt the public schools that are the lifeblood of their tightly knit communities.

The Texas House has long been a firewall against voucher offers. In the last regular legislative session, the chamber voted 115 to 29 on a budget amendment to ban school vouchers, with a majority of Republicans siding with Democrats.

Still, school choice advocates were encouraged in the last regular session by the passage of a bill that expanded grants for students with special needs whose schools closed due to the pandemic to seek support services elsewhere. And some believe the growing Republican focus on increasing parental involvement in the classroom — whether it’s determining COVID-19 policies or the race and gender agenda — has also been useful for the cause.

They may still not have the numbers in the House, but school choice groups like the American Federation for Children scored a victory last year when Brian Harrison, a former Trump administration official , defeated former state Rep. John Wray, a Republican from Waxahachie, in a special election for his former House seat in rural North Texas. Cruz had endorsed Harrison.

The AFC also found another ally several weeks later when San Antonio Republican John Lujan won a special runoff for a seat previously held by Democrats.

“We find that school choice and parental freedom and empowerment are a driving issue in these [runoffs]said Mandy Drogin, AFC Texas manager. “We see that parents are more engaged than ever in all areas.”

The school choice debate was on full display at a Monday forum between Casteel and Isaac in the Hill Country’s House District 73. Abbott is backing Casteel for the open seat, while Cruz has endorsed Isaac.

Minutes into the event, Casteel received a question about Texas AFT’s endorsement, and he quickly disavowed it. He said local Congressman Chip Roy brought the endorsement to his attention and “immediately went to their website, where it’s clear I can’t even begin to agree with a number of things they offer”. Casteel said he “reached out to them and asked them to take back their endorsement.”

Isaac and Casteel offered slightly different answers when asked about school choice. Isaac gave a response broadly endorsing “freedom of education”, saying it supports the “right of parents to choose the best education for their children”. Casteel’s response was more cautious, focusing on public charter schools as the main alternative for parents.

“I think we need to continue to allow more options, more responsible options, and I will continue to work for that,” he said.

While he repeatedly walked away from Texas AFT, Casteel bragged about his endorsement of Abbott, saying he was proud to have the backing of “the most conservative governor in the United States.”

Abbott is not without high-powered allies in his second-round endorsements. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, also endorsed Casteel and Harris. As chamber leader, Phelan can also be expected to defend incumbents Rogers and Kacal.

Phelan said in a statement that he supports candidates “who have proven to uphold conservative values ​​and are trusted leaders in their communities.”

The relationship between Abbott and Cruz spans at least two decades. As attorney general, Abbott gave Cruz a high profile job by having him run for general in 2003. Cruz backed Abbott in the intraparty heat he faced in his last primary, saying he would be a “disloyal moron” if he didn’t support his former boss.

This election cycle isn’t the first time the two have found themselves on opposite sides of a runoff in the State House primaries. Cruz also endorsed a 2020 Rogers opponent as he ran for an open seat with Abbott’s backing. Rogers defeated the opponent, Jon Francis, by a small margin.

This story comes from our press partners at the Texas Tribune. Learn more here.

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