One of the best ways to describe what’s been going on with the tea party in Texas is to look at state Sen. Dan Patrick, the newly minted Republican nominee for lieutenant governor who became the latest tea party favorite to defeat Lt. Gov David Dewhurst last month (Ted Cruz did the same thing in 2012).
Over the weekend at the Texas Republican convention, Patrick, who has made a hard-line stance on immigration his signature issue, using it to effectively and relentlessly attack Dewhurst in the Republican primary, delivered a speech in which he argued that Republicans should be respectful but also bold in pushing hard-line immigration reforms.
“We must not step back from being bold on the issue that impacts the
county and this state,” Patrick said in his speech. “There are people pouring over our border every week.”
A few hours after the speech, the party approved a new immigration plan that, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, called for a ban on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, outlawing the “knowing employment” of immigrants in the country illegally, and generally avoiding “amnesty.” Notably, the new GOP plan did not include support for a guest-worker program. The newly adopted platform is something of a departure from Texas Republicans trying to take a somewhat more moderate approach in the last few years to attract an increasingly valuable Hispanic population in Texas.
Beyond that though it also shows how tea partiers within the Republican Party are also increasingly becoming the Texas Republican Party.
“The effort to pass a stronger, more hard-line immigration plank was on its way long before he spoke,” Texas Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak told TPM. “But I do think it has an impact and the only person really who’s been talking about immigration in Texas — we had a March 4 primary and a May 27 runoff, was Dan Patrick. He used it very effectively against three other candidates, all three were statewide officials, one the sitting lieutenant governor … he used it very effectively against them because it was the only policy issue that they had a difference on. He was able to point to different votes and different statements that each of them had made them relative to immigration that was different from him.”
Mackowiak said Patrick rode to victory in the race partially because he recognized how well his immigration stance resonated with base Republican voters. In the runoff he beat Dewhurst decisively, 65 percent to 35 percent.
While the tea party brand — if not its ideology — is suffering elsewhere, in Texas the movement is alive and strong.
“It’s still an insurgency,” Cruz said in an interview with The Washington Post recently. “It’s an insurgency of millions of people across Texas and millions of people across America who are standing up to turn our nation around.”
On Friday, Cruz seemed to echo the hardline immigration approach tea partiers prefer by arguing in an op-ed that President Barack Obama’s “lawlessness” on immigration has helped cause a spike in illegal immigration. It earned him a winning spot in the 14-person presidential candidate straw poll at the convention. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) placed fourth.
If Patrick does become lieutenant governor, and he’s all but guaranteed to win in deep red Texas, he would hold an especially powerful position as lieutenant governor, especially when compared to counterparts in other states. In Texas, person who occupies that post is, in the words of Southern Methodist University political science professor Matthew Wilson, the “floor manager” of the state Senate.
Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor and the heavy favorite in the gubernatorial race, is not as conservative as Patrick on immigration reform and is hoping to reach out to Hispanic voters on the campaign trail, so it’s hard to imagine Patrick’s position being adopted word-for-word by the top of the gubernatorial ticket.
“I think that that will to some degree limit what Patrick will do beyond just rhetorical stuff because Abbott is, I think, unlikely to pursue the sort of practical, hardline anti-immigration policies,” Wilson said.
The lieutenant governor also has the power to appoint committee chairpersons. Sometimes members of the minority party have been given chairmanships even if the lieutenant governor is a member of the other party. That could change under Patrick. Patrick has indicated that he would make that much rarer in Texas if he became lieutenant governor. Serving as the “floor manager” could also help Patrick move more conservative legislation through the state legislature.
Democrats argue that Patrick’s victory actually helps the chances of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Leticia Van De Putte because Patrick is so conservative on immigration policy. They believe his previous statements will repel Hispanic voters from the GOP.
“He said he’s coming to into our Latino communities but the harsh,
insulting tone he has taken has disrespected them and where they live,” Van De Putte said according to the Associated Press. “It’s very difficult to ask people to go into their home when you’ve insulted them.”