Much has been said by various grassroots conservatives about the ongoing race for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives between incumbent Joe Straus and his challenger Bryan Hughes. While many conservative activists are rallying behind Hughes, they will likely face insurmountable opposition from the powerful lobby group Texans For Lawsuit Reform.
Allies of TLR and Straus have already begun to attempt to highlight Hughes’ work as a trial lawyer- the sworn enemies of TLR- in an attempt to smear Hughes and question his conservative credentials. While TLR may claim neutrality in the Speaker’s race, such claims should be viewed with great skepticism. Recent comments from TLR’s spokeswoman indicate their contempt for Rep. Hughes and his profession, while at the same time praising Speaker Straus and his support for TLR’s agenda.
During the last legislative session, TLR worked hand in hand with Speaker Straus’ senior staff to pass a legislative redistricting map that was opposed by various conservative organizations and activists, including a number who support Rep. Hughes’ campaign for Speaker. TLR’s President, longtime Democratic activist and fundraiser Dick Trabulsi, made it very clear to Straus’ top aides that TLR was interested in coordinating a messaging campaign in support of their favored redistricting map and that they were advising legislators to “put all their eggs” in the redistricting proposal favored by TLR and opposed by several “TEA Party” groups.
TLR has a long history of attacking Rep. Hughes and supporting Speaker Straus. Since his election to the Texas House in 2005, TLR has contributed over $65,000 to Speaker Straus. On the other hand, TLR has only made two contributions to Rep. Hughes for a total of $3,000- a paltry sum by TLR’s standards. The most recent of those contributions was made in 2004. Since that time, TLR has attacked Rep. Hughes on a number of occasions.
Even more telling of TLR’s attitude towards Rep. Hughes was their decision not to endorse him in the most recent Republican primary. Hughes was one of just two incumbent House Republicans facing a primary challenge from a non-legislator who was not endorsed by TLR in the last Republican primary. TLR not only endorsed Speaker Straus in his contested primary race this election cycle, but contributed to his campaign and hosted an event honoring him.
TLR’s history of attacking Rep. Hughes goes back to at least 2006 when a TLR front group calling itself “Texans For Texas” published an inflammatory mailer called “Texas Shark Watch” that attacked Rep. Hughes and other conservative Republican legislators. In 2008, after Texans For Individual Rights Discovered that TLR had given $75,000 to “Texans For Texas”, the conservative newsletter The Lone Star Report asked the executive director of Texans For Texas, Janelle Shepard, what TLR’s contributions were for. Shepard stated that Texas Shark Watch “was exactly” what TLR’s funding was for. TLR’s spokeswoman then tried to cover up TLR’s involvement in “Shark Watch.”
TLR again attacked Rep. Hughes after the 2009 legislative session as a result of his support of two commonsense bills opposed by TLR. One of these bills, the “Entergy” bill, would have overturned an activist decision by the Texas Supreme Court. The other bill, the “paid or incurred bill”, would have protected the right of an injured person to collect the full value of their medical bills in a lawsuit or settlement.
Rep. Hughes’ support of these bills resulted in TLR publishing literature that accused him of supporting a “trial lawyer agenda.” In an article published by the Tyler Morning Telegraph entitled “Rep. Hughes Denies Being Liberal”, Hughes countered the attacks on him by TLR and stated that TLR’s literature did not accurately characterize the bills in question that he supported.
In addition to supporting the “Entergy” and “Paid or Incurred” bills against TLR’s wishes during the 2009 session, Hughes was also the lone Republican vote against final passage of the original House version of HB 274 during the last legislative session. HB 274 was TLR’s top legislative priority during the last legislative session and the version opposed by Rep. Hughes would have had a devastating impact on the Constitutional rights of average Texans. Rep. Hughes later voted for the final version of HB 274, which removed the most onerous provisions of the original TLR-backed bill.
No Republican member of the Texas House has done more to oppose to Texans For Lawsuit Reform’s special interest agenda than Bryan Hughes has. While Rep. Hughes enjoys considerable support from grassroots conservative activists, they do not get to vote for Speaker. TLR has far too much power and influence at the Capitol to allow a member who has bucked their agenda on so many occasions, as Rep. Hughes has done, to ascend to the Speakership.