Greg Abbott Faces New Republican Test

Texas Governor Greg Abbott will face another test this week as he seeks to fill the state legislature with GOP lawmakers who will back his top legislative priority.

Texas is holding its primary runoffs for both parties on Tuesday, when voters will head to the polls to finalize their nominees in nearly three dozen races.

This election cycle, Abbott has endorsed 14 GOP primary challengers in hopes of unseating the House Republicans who repeatedly voted against his school vouchers program. Seven of the Abbott-backed candidates already won their races in the March 5 primary, while five advanced to the runoffs.

Between January 26 and February 24 alone, the governor spent $6.1 million to deliver on his campaign promise. Abbott ultimately failed to pass a bill that would have given parents educational tax dollars to send their children to private or religious schools instead of public ones, even after calling legislators back for four special sessions last year.

The opposition to his school vouchers plan came from a united Democratic coalition and about two dozen Republicans who represent rural areas and whose communities oftentimes rely on public schools as a lifeline. It has also driven Abbott to go after members of his party who refuse to tow his line.

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On Tuesday, voters will decide the Republican nominees in three more races where the governor has endorsed a primary challenger.

In House District 1, Abbott-backed Chris Spencer will face off against Representative Gary VanDeaver. In House District 44, Alan Schoolcraft, with Abbott’s support, will run against Representative John Kuempel. And in House District 58, Abbot-backed Helen Kerwin will aim to unseat Representative DeWayne Burns.

Schoolcraft and Kerwin had the advantage against both the incumbents in their races, with Schoolcraft pulling in 48 percent of the GOP vote to Kuempel’s 45 percent in March and with Kerwin seeing 49 percent support to Burns’ 41 percent. Spencer received 43 percent of the Republican vote, while VanDeaver saw 46 percent.

Those figures underscore how powerful Abbott’s endorsements have been in Texas.

“It’s just so unusual for an incumbent governor to campaign against members of his own party,” John Colyandro, a Texas lobbyist and former top aide to Abbott, told Politico last week. “He was the pivot around which everything turned here.”

Trey Wharton and Alex Kamkar—pro-voucher candidates endorsed by the governor—are also headed to the runoff on Tuesday. They are running for seats that will be left vacant by anti-voucher Republicans who are not running for reelection.

School voucher programs have gained steam across the nation. In 2023 alone, 10 states passed or expanded school choice laws and education savings accounts exist in 18 states. But those efforts have failed in Texas, where rural Republicans refuse to vote for a program that they argue will take away resources from public school students.

Abbott has continued to promote his plans ahead of the runoff election. On Friday, he reposted on X, formerly Twitter, a viral video of an El Paso teacher being pushed to the ground during a fight at a Texas middle school with the caption, “EVERY parent deserves to be able to choose the school best for their child.”


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