It’s hard for me to be totally disheartened about a set of runoffs that made Jim Hogan the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner. Jim Who? Don’t worry; the candidate tackled this issue head-on in a piece for TribTalk asking voters to support him in the runoff rather than Kinky Friedman:

It has been reported that I am unknown and do not campaign. If you will pause for a moment and Google “Jim Hogan Texas Agriculture Commissioner,” I believe you will be amazed at the amount of information available about me. I think you will agree that those reports can be put to rest. 

I’ve read Hogan’s column half a dozen times in the past week and I have to say, I agree with all of his observations, including this one: “This campaign at times has been humorous, which is good because of the state of Texas politics.” That’s the kind of common sense that has helped make Texas great–and which has been in dangerously short supply on the other side of the aisle. 

In the Republican runoffs, it was clearly a good night for the Tea Party-type candidates. The candidates who claimed the “more conservative” mantle won the big three statewide runoffs: Dan Patrick with a nearly 2-1 victory in the lieutenant-governor runoff, Ken Paxton with a similar margin in the attorney-general contest, Sid Miller for agriculture commissioner. The notable exception was that Ryan Sitton, an oil and gas executive, edged Wayne Christian in the quest to become the party’s nominee to the Railroad Commission, but even there, the results may be read as a setback for the establishment. “The Railroad Commission has for far too long been used as a political stepping-stone for higher office,” wrote Wayne Christian, a former state representative, in his own TribTalk column; voters apparently took his advice and went for Sitton, who has never held office before.

At the legislative level, the Tea Party movement was less successful–EmpowerTexans endorsed seven candidates in House runoffs, and five of them lost–but had some significant successes in the Senate, with Konni Burton winning the Republican nomination for Wendy Davis’s old Senate seat and Bob Hall narrowly edging Bob Deuell, one of the incumbent Republicans who has been inexplicably reclassified by EmpowerTexans as a “liberal incumbent.” 

The “conservative” victories yesterday may, however, come back to haunt Texas conservatives. For one thing, the term “conservative” has lost whatever meaning it once had; the new standard, as one conservative put it to me yesterday, is “I know it when I see it”–a reference to Justice Stewart’s famous criterion for deciding what qualifies as pornography. The phrase is effectively shorthand for “I have no idea” or “I’d prefer to make it up as I go along”. The conservative who offered that definition wasn’t wrong, but it is an ominous situation, including for conservative politicians themselves, who may not like answering to whims and report cards.  

A second problem for Texas Republicans in the wake of yesterday’s “conservative” victories is that, as a result of an election in which less than 6% of registered voters in Texas bothered to vote, the party now has several standard bearers that Republicans themselves aren’t exactly crazy about. Some of the nominees aren’t even popular among grassroots activists. You’ll have to take my word for that, because in public, they’re all circling the wagons, but my sense is that the Tea Party establishment is genuinely excited about a couple of candidates, including Konni Burton. They’re tepid about others; there weren’t many tears shed for Wayne Christian last night, and there won’t be many shed for Sid Miller in November when American hero Jim Hogan turns Texas blue with his bare hands. Perhaps most odd is how little sympathy there is between the Patrick and Paxton crowds. Those two posted the biggest wins of the night, and apparently drew exactly almost exactly the same voters, but I’ve met very few conservatives who are equally excited about both–and a number of Paxton supporters, in particular, who can barely conceal their disdain for Patrick.

This may be because Patrick and Paxton are temperamentally opposite (Patrick is a showman, and Paxton is very shy). It may be that Cruz supporters are skeptical of Patrick–Patrick attacked Cruz freely on behalf of Dewhurst in 2012, and Paxton would never do such a thing. My own unpopular opinion is that Patrick has the potential to do well as lieutenant-governor, whereas Paxton’s nomination to succeed Greg Abbott as attorney-general is a huge victory for the state’s lesser prairie chickens, who will soon roam free over federally protected habitats, enjoying their newly expanded Medicaid benefits–but that’s a post for another day, perhaps. For now, I’ll conclude by saying this: whatever the cause, the tension within the Tea Party or conservative movement is subdued at the moment. But this year’s Republican nominees, many of whom will be propelled to high office by support from 3 or 4% of the voters in Texas, can’t really afford for any further faultlines to emerge.   

(AP Images / Patric Schneider )