Saturday, June 17, 2006
State Representative Robert Talton pegged as front runner in CD 22 race
State Rep. Robert Talton, who's arguably the Texas Legislature's most conservative member, appears to be the frontrunner in the race to replace ex-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the November general election ballot.
But it's not a done deal. A Pasadena Republican who's served in the House for the past 13 years, Talton is looking particularly strong in Galveston and Harris counties - two of the four counties where GOP activists will choose a new fall nominee for Congressional District 22 - barring a court order that prevents them from doing so.
The competition for the one vote that Republican precinct chairs will have in Fort Bend County appears to have narrowed to Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace and State Rep. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land. The Brazoria County vote is apparently still up for grabs - and Talton is believed to have the inside track for the two votes that precinct chairs in Harris and Galveston will have in the DeLay replacement derby. Harris County's vote, however, may be more in play at this point than the vote that GOP precinct chairs in Galveston County will cast if and when the Texas Republican Party calls a vote on a replacement as planned.
While the debate and campaigning continues, the process has been in limbo for the past week as a result of a temporary restraining order that an Austin judge issued last week in response to a request from Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie.
Democrats contend that the state GOP cannot replace DeLay as the CD 22 nominee because he has a homestead exemption on the Sugar Land residence where he lived before moving to Virginia and resigning from Congress last week. Richie argues that DeLay's withdrawal from the race is not a sufficient cause to trigger a move to find somebody to run in his place this fall.
Republicans are confident that they will prevail in the court battle - either at a June 22 hearing on a permanent injunction before State District Judge Darlene Byrne of Austin or in the State Supreme Court in the event of a second adverse ruling from the lower court later this month.
Byrne, a Democrat, granted the TRO one week ago on the same day that the Democratic Party kicked off its state convention in Fort Worth. Republicans note that DeLay has registered to drive and to vote in Virginia and taken additional steps to establish his residence there. The homestead exemption on DeLay's previous residence in Texas won't expire until January.
Even most partisan Democrats predict that Republicans will eventually be allowed to pick a new nominee to face former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson, a Libertarian and possibly former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, who hopes to be on the ballot as an independent candidate. But the court-imposed delay has reduced the amount of time that a Republican candidate will have to raise money and to organize grassroots support for the race.
The field of potential replacements includes State Senator Mike Jackson of La Porte, Houston City Council member Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, former State Republican Executive Committee member Tim Turner, Fort Bend County Commissioner W. A. "Andy" Meyers, retired Air Force officer Don Richardson and Sugar Land lawyer Tom Campbell, who lost to DeLay in the March primary election. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels had been mentioned as a possible contender but removed his name from the competition several weeks ago.
Once State GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser gets the green light to proceed with the process, Talton appears to be in decent position to go into it as the favorite. The precinct chairs who will designate one of their own from each county to cast their county's vote tend to be more conservative than the average Republican voter - and Talton's reputation as staunch conservative is second to none among lawmakers at the Texas Capitol.
Talton, a member of Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team as the House Urban Affairs Committee chairman,captured headlines across the state last year when he led a push to ban gays and lesbians from being foster parents.
If Talton wins the support of the Galveston County precinct chair designee as Republican insiders predict, he would be assured of at least a tie with a victory in either Harris or Brazoria counties. A tie would be broken in a vote of the SREC. Before the process would be settled by the state governing board, two candidates would have to win two counties apiece unless four separate contenders each received one vote.