Texas GOP legislators, tea party clash in runoffs
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AUSTIN (AP) - The tea party movement continued to strengthen its influence in the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature on Tuesday with the ouster of a longtime moderate state senator and two House leaders.
Emergency room physician Donna Campbell defeated 19-year Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio in one of the toughest campaigns in the primary season. Campbell was considered the third-tier candidate before forcing her way into a runoff, then swamped Wentworth in a runoff dominated by tea party activists.
In the House, Republican committee chairmen Rep. Sid Miller, of Stephenville, and Chuck Hopson, of Jacksonville, were defeated by challengers, dealing another blow to House Speaker Joe Straus, who has had to fight off tea party critics to key his position.
Campbell appeared to ride the crest of the tea party wave that dominated the top of the ballot where Ted Cruz defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.
"This is a God thing," Campbell said by phone from her election night party in New Braunfels. "The political pundits would not have even put me here in the runoff. I have the fiscal and social conservative values voters want. It proved to be successful."
Campbell still faces Democrat John Courage in the November general election but will be considered a heavy favorite in the Republican-heavy district.
Despite his support for past issues such as voter identification, gun rights and a ban on gay marriage, Wentworth had been criticized by some conservative groups as not being conservative and found himself on the defensive in a bruising and expensive primary. Most notably, he had voted against the Texas law that requires doctors to perform a sonogram before a woman has an abortion.
By contrast, Campbell opposes abortion in all cases, even rape and incest.
Campbell ran for Congress in 2010 and moved to New Braunfels to take up residency in the district just before filing for the state Senate campaign that was dominated by attacks on Wentworth's conservative record.
"People all over this country but especially in Texas are angry - and I mean, really, really angry - and fearful about what's happening in Washington D.C. and with (President) Obama. And they've misdirected their fire toward people who served them in the Texas Legislature," Wentworth said. "Their anger shouldn't be directed at us, it should be directed at those in Washington. Those of us like me and David Dewhurst were the victims."
In the House, three House committee chairmen appointed by Straus were defeated in May and the loss of Miller and Hopson will be another dent in Straus' leadership. Straus has already drawn a challenger for the speakership in January 2013.
Miller, chairman of the Homeland Security and Public Safety committee, was author of the sonogram law and enjoyed strong support from Gov. Rick Perry. That wasn't enough as he was defeated by family doctor J.D. Sheffield, of Gatesville, who challenged Miller on his votes supporting a $4 billion cut in public education in 2011 and their impact on rural counties.
Chuck Hopson, who leads the General Investigating and Ethics committee, was defeated by Travis Clardy, an attorney from Nacogdoches who has called Hopson an opportunist Republican who switched to the GOP from Democrat in 2008.