Mitt Romney clinched the GOP nomination in Texas on Tuesday, as everyone expected. But farther down the ballot, a political war to protect Texas' strong business record was being waged. Although the ending was a happy one, the story should serve as a cautionary tale for Republican voters everywhere. When a candidate claims to be the conservative in the race, check where his money is coming from before you believe him.
Steve Mostyn, a Texas trial lawyer who made his fortune in hurricane damage lawsuits, contributed $10 million to Democrats in the 2010 cycle, mostly at the state and local levels. The large-scale influence-buying scheme failed when Democrats were crushed that November. Trial lawyers like Mostyn were rolled in the following legislative session. New hurricane insurance reforms chipped away at an apparently cozy relationship between the state-run hurricane insurer and trial lawyers who were suing it and taking 67 percent attorneys' fees at settlement.
Texas' Democratic Party is in shambles today, despite tens of millions in trial lawyer money that was invested to rebuild it. This year, Democrats failed even to field a credible candidate for U.S. Senate. And so to avoid throwing too much good money after bad, Mostyn and other trial lawyers changed their strategy. Instead of going all-out for the Democrats, they found and funded friendly Republicans to run in the contests that were decided this week. They concentrated especially on two open-seat state Senate races where they saw an opportunity to install Republican friends of the trial bar. They made huge individual contributions to candidates, and funneled millions more through PACs mostly connected to Mostyn, with deceptive names like "Conservative Voters of Texas," "Texans for Insurance Reform" and "Texans for Individual Rights."
In the Houston area, they spent $1 million against state Rep. Larry Taylor, who had championed the hurricane lawsuit reforms in the state House. Despite this, Taylor finished the night with 58 percent and the nomination for a state Senate seat. The trial lawyers' preferred candidate finished with just 25 percent, or fewer than 13,000 votes.
The trial lawyers suffered a similar setback in a Dallas-area open-seat race in which Kelly Hancock, the candidate against whom they spent $500,000, took 65 percent of the vote. And their $700,000 effort to protect one of their favorite incumbent Republican senators in the San Antonio area -- Jeff Wentworth, the only Republican senator who voted against the hurricane reforms -- came up short. He finished with only 36 percent and was forced into an unexpected runoff with a very good chance he will lose.
Texas Republican voters were not fooled when liberal Democratic trial lawyers fielded puppet candidates on GOP ballots. The lesson for everyone else is not to be fooled when the same thing happens in your state.