TX House District 19 a Test of TEA Party Strength

TEA Party Don't Tread On Me
Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton
Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton

The TEA Party comprises the third and best-organized “throw the bums out” cycle in the last 30 years. But the bums keep coming back.

The smart bums figured out long ago that “conservative” was the magic word in GOP primaries, when 85 percent of all districted seats are settled. When a candidate says that word over and over, many voters — who remember when “conservative” was a dirty word — might just believe him.

One such race has shaped up in Texas House District 19, where one Republican state representative has been redistricted in with another. Both claim the conservative mantle. Can they both be right?

Freshman State Rep. James White’s voting scores (per Heritage Alliance, Texas Eagle Forum, Young Conservatives of Texas, and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility) put him in the top tier among conservative lawmakers.

The same cannot be said for his opponent, five-term Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, who calls himself conservative numerous times on his 2012 primary campaign web site.

Rep. James White
Rep. James White

Here’s a look at each candidates 2011 legislative scores:

2011 Leg. Session Heritage Alliance Tex. Eagle Forum

White 90 92 82 A+
Hamilton 67 32 63 C+


In fairness, scores paint a rather black-and-white picture. But with the color from specific votes — as well as a long history — added in, the contrast becomes even sharper.

As the Texas Legislature did an admirable job of holding the line on spending growth through the recession, Rep. Hamilton appeared going the opposite way. In the 2009 session, as lawmakers grappled with declining tax revenues, Rep. Hamilton voted for a bill to create a statewide, full-day pre-kindergarten. The bill would have greatly expanded the current pre-K program and, of course, education spending. (HB 130, Concurring Senate Amendments, RV #1465, 5/29/09, Passed 116-27, Hamilton-AYE) In the end, Gov. Perry vetoed the bill.

In the next session, Rep. Hamilton voted against Amendment 3 to SB 2 – which would have stricken the section of SB 2 that tapped the rainy day fund for education spending. (Amendment No. 3 to SB 2, RV #58, Failed 79-65, 6/10/11, Hamilton-NO) This was a test of whether local administrators would manage their budget, or just demand more money as is so often the case.

Votes like these separate decisionmakers from go-alongs. (Rep. White voted AYE in the latter sample; he was elected in 2010.)

In 2007, Rep. Hamilton supported a statewide smoking ban in private workplaces, designed to pre-empt decisionmaking by local authorities as well as the rights of business owners (HB 9, Third Reading, RV #1056, 5/8/2007, Passed 92-52-1, Hamilton-AYE).

In 2011, Hamilton voted against an amendment that would have strengthened property rights by tightening the requirements necessary for eminent domain to be used. This issue arose in the wake of the Supreme Court’s widely unpopular Kelo decision. (Amendment No. 3 to SB 18, RV #346, Failed 44-99, 4/13/11, Hamilton-NO)

As noted at the outset, proclaiming oneself “conservative” hasn’t always been the ticket to winning a GOP primary. But Rep. Hamilton arrived late even to that game. As late as 2008,

Hamilton describes himself as a “moderate Republican” who works with lawmakers of both parties on behalf of his Democratic-leaning district….

Hamilton points to his endorsement by four teachers’ organizations and several unions, and claims an 80-percent pro-labor raring from the AFL-CIO. (Ed Sills, communications director of the Texas AFL-CIO, says Hamilton received a 58-percent rating in 2007). In any case, Hamilton has handily fended off Democratic opponents by margins of 10 per-cent or more during his three election bids. (Source: The Texas Observer, May 30, 2008)

Rep. White, meanwhile, was swept into office in 2010 as TEA Party voters first turned principles into action. Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Rep. Hamilton suddenly began to identify himself as a conservative, instead of a moderate.

The comparisons could go on, but at some point the contrast knob runs out of travel. The picture is so stark as to leave GOP voters in HD-19 with little ambiguity.

Michael Smith is an activist with the Citizen Leader PAC.