The Elephants in the Room

With solid majorities in both houses of the Legislature and control of every statewide office, Republicans are girding for the ultimate battle with the real enemy in the 2006 elections: other Republicans.

JUST HOME FROM A WEEKEND TRIP in early November, state representative Tony Goolsby, of Dallas, went to his office and left his wife, Toppy, to check their voice mail messages. A few minutes later, Toppy called him. Most of the messages were routine, but there was one he needed to hear—an automated political poll. The first question was no surprise: Do you support Proposition 2, the constitutional amendment to defend traditional marriage? “Answer yes or no,” the robo-voice instructed. The next question took Tony completely by surprise. “If the election were held today, would you vote to reelect your state representative, Tony Goolsby?” It was the last thing he expected to hear—well, almost the last thing. He certainly hadn’t authorized the poll. There could be only one explanation: An unknown enemy was probing to see if he was vulnerable to a challenge. And then came the absolute last thing he expected to hear. “This poll was authorized and paid for by the Republican Party of Texas.” Was it possible that his own party was interested in defeating him?

As it turned out, Goolsby wasn’t the only Republican legislator whose constituents were polled about their representative by the state GOP. Others included Carter Casteel, of New Braunfels; Charlie Geren, of Fort Worth; Toby Goodman, of Arlington; Delwyn Jones, of Lubbock; Tommy Merritt, of Longview; and Todd Smith, of Euless. Smith, in particular, was outraged about the party’s participation in the poll. He says he confronted Jeff Fisher, the executive director of the Texas GOP, who claimed that the poll about Prop 2 was taken statewide, in every legislative district. But were other Republican lawmakers singled out? “Show me the list of the state representatives whose constituents were polled,” Smith said. Fisher refused. “Tell me how the list was compiled.” Again, he refused. “Why did you poll in my district?” This time Fisher answered: “To help you in case you have a Democratic opponent,” a response Smith characterized to me as “lying to my face.” His district is so solidly Republican that David Dewhurst, running for lieutenant governor in 2002 as a virtual unknown, got 65 percent of the district’s vote against veteran Democrat John Sharp. “What I want to know is where all this is leading,” Smith told me. “Who is calling the shots?”

Where this is leading is toward all-out

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