The PJ Tatler

Is There a Democrat Running In One of Texas' Republican Primaries?

I started hearing about this story during the Christmas hiatus but was never in a position to look into it. Texas has 29 offices that are elected statewide, and Democrats have not won any race for any of those offices in about 20 years. So all the relevant action for any statewide office in Texas has been in the Republican primary for quite a while now. Democrats just haven’t fielded many decent candidates, and their state party is too beholden to the far left national Democrats to fool anyone here. If you run statewide as a Democrat in Texas, you’re starting off about 10 points in the hole.

Agriculture Commissioner is one statewide office, and it has been vacated this time around after the sitting ag commish, Todd Staples, joined the crowded race for lieutenant governor. Tatler interviewed Staples, as well as all of the other GOP candidates for lite gov,  last year. I’m not making any endorsement in that race, or any other GOP primary in Texas. I just know too many people on all sides of these races, both among the candidates and especially among their campaign staffs. Texas is blessed with an embarrassment of riches in some of these primaries, especially governor and lieutenant governor.

That doesn’t stop me from reporting on them, though, or offering the occasional opinion about whether a given primary race should be happening at all. All primarying of incumbents are not equally useful, strategically or ideologically.

So if you’ve read past all that preamble, here’s the actual story. A pack of Republicans have applied to run in the primary for the open ag commisioner office, including a former state representative and even my former boss at the Texas GOP, Eric Opiela. He was executive director at the Texas GOP when I was the communications director there. In fact, he hired me for that job. Eric is a good man and I’m happy to call him my friend.

Holly Hansen noticed one of the other candidates running in the Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. His name is J. Allen Carnes.

Four ‘Republicans’ have filed: J Carnes, Tommy MerrittEric Opiela, and Sid Miller.  Opiela just received the endorsement of the Texas Alliance for Life PAC, Miller is a State Rep with some good conservative credentials, and Merritt is also a former GOP State Rep, but hasn’t gotten much love from conservatives, and up until last Fall it was rumored he might run on the Democrat ticket.

Uvalde Mayor J Allen Carnes is a bigger problem.  According to his voting records, he voted in the Democrat Primary in 2008 (Hillary or Obama?) and in 2010 (Bill White or Farouk Shami?) only switching to the Republican Primary in 2012.  Carnes has also donated to Texas Democrats Pete GallegoHenry Cuellar, and Ciro Rodriguez.  Unsurprisingly, Carnes has been reluctant to discuss issues important to key Republican voters like, abortion or Obamacare.

I’m among those Republicans who always welcome genuine party switchers who jettison the Democrats to turn Republican. I’ve treated switches the way Reagan treated the Cold War against the Soviets — “We win and they lose.” When I worked at the party, every switch was a sign that we were winning the war of ideas between election cycles. In the vast majority of cases, those who switch do so for the right reasons. They also announce why they’re switching when they switch, and let the voters decide if they’re being honest and deserve to hold public office or not. History shows that Democrats who genuinely switch can go on to become serious, consequential Republican party leaders — Ronald Reagan and Rick Perry being prime examples.

Carnes’ reluctance to talk about issues speaks to whether his switch is the honest kind or the opportunistic kind. Is he running as a Republican because of what he believes, or because he believes that running as a Republican while remaining a Democrat at heart is the only way he can win? Is he a Democrat masquerading as a Republican so that he doesn’t start off in that 10-point hole?

He should explain to the people of Texas what he’s up to. He should explain that voting record and that donation record. If his switch is genuine, then he has a powerful story to tell and could be a very effective officer. If it’s not, then he’s being dishonest with the people he wants to entrust him with power.

This is Texas. That just won’t do.