After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, Republican judges in Harris County faced a so-called difficult choice: either end the long and honorable tradition of officiating civil marriages or continue upholding the principles of the constitution and enrage a homophobic electoral base.
Judge Jay Karahan, whose court oversees criminal misdemeanors, was one of the only to choose the latter. On March 6, the 16-year veteran of the Bench was defeated in a Republican primary by an opponent described by Karahan’s campaign as serially reprimanded as a prosecutor. The opponent had been endorsed by a plethora of Tea Party-affiliated slates often accused of being “pay-to-play.” Karahan, one of the most respected judges in Houston, got less than 30 percent of the vote.
In a primary election wherein Gov. Greg Abbott’s dunderheaded Kamikaze-mission against compatriot state legislators sucked up all the oxygen, pundits and professionals appear to have missed the greater point when it comes to this year’s Republican primaries: The Texas Republican Party does not belong to Abbott or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. It is President Donald Trump’s and the nasty, base prejudice he represents.
The other jurist defeated in a Harris County Republican primary was Judge Theresa Chang, whose court oversees civil suits regarding moderate-to-large amounts of money. Once appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry to be Harris County District Clerk, Chang is a pragmatic professional often appreciated from both sides of the aisle. She was unseated by the daughter of a Tea Party state legislator, who was admitted to the Bar fewer than four years ago and alleged “you can’t understand” what Chang, who is Asian-American, says.
In statewide contests, Land Commissioner George P. Bush out Trump-ed his predecessor and same-party opponent, Jerry Patterson. Bush — whose father, Jeb, was repeatedly slandered by Trump and whose mother was once defamed by him — embraced the support of the First Family. Bush also knocked Patterson for distancing himself from candidate Trump when the country first heard the phrase “grab ‘em by the pussy.” And of course, infamously racist and insensitive Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller won too.
But instead of focusing on such ugly developments, the press celebrates Abbott getting egg on his face. The governor endorsed three challengers to incumbent state legislators who trumpeted ethics reform last session. He only got 1-for-3, and the one successful challenger likely would have won anyway, even without Abbott’s nod.
In that race, Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, lost to Mayes Middleton, acolyte of Empower Texans, the AstroTurf organization of Midland oilmen apparently hell-bent on the destruction of the public school system that has given us such public intellectuals as Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, and Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving.
Faircloth came to office in 2014, in a Republican primary where he was seen as the more-conservative contender. But Faircloth did something rare for Texas politics thereafter: He took the job seriously and grew into it as a better leader by relocating to the heart of the district and fighting for its priorities rather vehemently in Austin.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Faircloth demonstrated this by lamenting the far-right in Texas. He told me governing is really about jobs, roads, potholes, schools and hospitals and protecting people in times of crisis and emergency — not about bathrooms and not about whether the Speaker of the House is a Jew (another pet conspiracy of the far-right in Texas).
The best officeholders do not obsess most over the most base issues among us. Unfortunately for Faircloth — and indeed, for Patterson, Chang and Karahan — the Republican primary voters sharply disagreed.
Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist.