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It’s All About the Vouchers in Republican Runoffs

Virtually every Republican Primary runoff being decided on May 28 is about school vouchers, but the challengers are avoiding saying that.

A recent attack ad against Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) accuses him of supporting a “liberal agenda.” Since 2011, Kuempel has voted for all but two anti-abortion bills. He has voted for every single bill that expanded the right to carry firearms and every bill that that targeted migrants, including prohibiting sanctuary cities. Kuempel opposes letting trans athletes participate under their gender identity, supported the banning of teaching the history of white supremacy in schools, and voted to increase Texas’s already strict Voter ID laws.

If that is supporting a liberal agenda, then a plank of wood with no legs is a table. Yet, in his ads, challenger Alan Schoolcraft implies that unlike Kuempel he will secure the border, protect the Second Amendment, and be a real conservative.

What he doesn’t say in the ads is that he will support Governor Greg Abbott’s voucher plan, or that the whole reason he is prevailing as challenger against a very conservative politician from the right is because Kuempel voted against the voucher plan.

School vouchers, sometimes erroneously known as “school choice,” was the signature issue for Abbott during the last legislative session. He planned to let parents use public funds to pay for tuition to Christian schools mostly located in wealthy urban and suburban areas. The rural Republicans in the House refused to support it, fearing it would drain funds from the public schools that are often their communities’ lifeblood.

Abbott vowed revenge, and has since poured $6 million into challengers hoping to get his way in 2025. The effort is also backed by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass, who is one of the nation’s leading voucher advocates. The matter has become a far-right litmus test despite the fact that vouchers remain mostly unpopular in Texas.

Yet this dance around the key issue has been playing out all over the state. Rep. Justin Holland (R-Rockwall) has been posting short video clips justifying his conservative credentials against another Abbott-backed candidate, Katrina Pierson. The same goes for Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) and Rep. Dewayne Burns (R-Cleburne).

Abbott knows what plays well with his conservative base and the undecided electorate at large. After dipping briefly in the poll during his 2022 race against Beto O’Rourke, he surged to an easy victory based on his hardline stance regarding the border and gun ownership. These are the issues that make voters come to the polls, not vouchers.

However, that does not change the fact that these primary challengers are all almost exclusively pawns in the voucher game. Abbott is banking that voters will accept the claim that these incumbents are liberals in disguise despite all evidence to the contrary.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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