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Abbott’s Crusade Against the ‘Rural 16’ Yields Mixed Results

Governor Greg Abbott entered the March primary with a determination to target fellow Republicans who thwarted his aspirations for a widespread voucher-like program aimed at advancing “school choice.” The outcome of this endeavor appears to be a mixed bag.

In the battle to bolster the Texas House with Republicans aligned with his educational agenda, Abbott’s efforts have yielded varied outcomes among the Republican incumbents, dubbed the “rural 16,” who opposed his proposed education savings accounts. The full scope of these results may only become clear by May 28, as several races influenced by Abbott’s intervention seem poised for runoffs, potentially prolonging the intra-party strife within the GOP.

The contentious issue spurred significant spending and aggressive campaigning. While certain long-serving representatives like Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Ken King of Canadian, and Keith Bell of Forney seem poised to retain their seats, incumbents in races where Abbott threw his weight behind challengers appeared to be in precarious positions based on early returns. Notably, Joanne Shofner seemed to be on track to unseat Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Mike Olcott was leading against Glenn Rogers of Graford, and Marc LaHood maintained a lead over Steve Allison of San Antonio.

Abbott embarked on this election season with a vow to target Republican colleagues who hindered his ambitious plans for a widespread voucher-like program. He dedicated months of significant political capital and financial resources to this endeavor, endorsing challengers in 10 races.

During multiple legislative sessions, Abbott fervently pushed for the creation of education savings accounts, which would redirect state funds toward private school tuition. However, rural Republicans and House Democrats banded together to defeat the proposal, expressing concerns about its potential harm to public schools, which educate the majority of Texas children. This impasse between the Governor’s Office and the House stymied other education bills aimed at providing additional funding to public schools.

Sixteen of the defiant Republicans faced reelection challenges, backed by well-funded opponents and supported by Abbott’s substantial war chest. The governor’s financial support was further bolstered by a Pennsylvania billionaire fervent in his advocacy for school choice, who contributed $6 million. Additionally, former President Donald Trump threw his support behind the Republican challengers of four House members who opposed Abbott.

Each challenger, endorsed by the former president, pledged to advocate for school choice, border security, election integrity, and gun rights.

Abbott’s active involvement in the campaign trail was evident, with appearances shortly before the election in support of candidates like Hillary Hickland in House District 55, Helen Kerwin in House District 58, and Liz Case in House District 71. In Abilene, he criticized incumbent Rep. Stan Lambert for his stance against school choice, expressing confidence that Liz Case would support him in passing school choice legislation in the next legislative session.

Despite the political significance of the “school choice” debate, its actual impact on voters remains uncertain. While a poll by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs indicated that 60% of Republican primary voters would be “less likely” to support an incumbent representative who opposed voucher legislation, another recent survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that only 2% of Republican primary voters cited vouchers as a key issue influencing their support for GOP candidates.

RA Staff
RA Staff
Written by RA News staff.


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