The TWGGA 2024 Annual Conference & Trade Show was held in Denton last month. Although there were a number of interesting, timely, and fascinating speakers, one of the highlights was an address to the general membership by TABC Executive Director Thomas Graham, a long-time TABC employee, well known to many in our industry. A highlight of Graham’s time with the TABC has been his availability, candidness, and transparency. Graham spoke for about 30 minutes, covering topics of interest to the industry, including discussions about AIMS updates, current enforcement actions, audits, and the TABC wine study imposed by the House Appropriations committee.

In addition to Graham’s address, TABC staffed an Expo Hall booth for the duration of the conference, answering conference attendees’ questions on a variety of subjects. TWGGA’s ongoing constructive relationship with TABC, its executive staff, and its employees is a boon for our highly regulated industry. If you have a TABC question, feel free to contact me or for direction to the appropriate TABC personnel.

Michael Kaiser, vice president of WineAmerica, was also on the agenda to offer an update on what is happening to the industry at the federal level. Kaiser has been a regular at the annual TWGGA Annual Conference & Trade Show for a number of years and always offers important insights on federal alcohol issues. This year was no different, as he discussed the government dysfunction in congress and the creeping anti-alcohol movement from the WHO.

I was discussing the recent election results with a friend and he reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live skit that asked the question, “Quien es mas macho?” My answer after the Tuesday, March 5, primary election is: Señor Abbott es lo más macho.

You can question the methods used, where the money came from, and the long-term ramifications, but you cannot question the results.

For most of our history we have had one-term Speakers of the Texas House. Going back to reconstruction, the office was held by one man for a single term with a few exceptions. Ruben Senterfitt in the early 50s served two terms, and Waggoner Carr in the late 50s served two terms. Ben Barnes and Gus Mutscher both served two terms in the late 60s and early 70s. After Price Daniel, Jr.’s, one term, Billy Clayton began the trend of longer term Speakers, as he lasted four terms. Then, Gib Lewis and Pete Laney both served five terms as Speaker. Tom Craddick served three terms and Joe Straus five. Recently Dennis Bonnen served one term (shortened by scandal), and now we find ourselves at the end of Dade Phelan’s second term. Speaker Craddick’s run was shortened by a Republican revolt in the House, which brought his rein to an unexpected end and is where we might find ourselves once again.

To the best of my recollection, the only Speaker to lose his primary election was Rayford Price in 1972. Rayford replaced Gus Mutscher, who got caught up in the Sharpstown scandal along with Ben Barnes and Governor Preston Smith—although Gus was the only person who was convicted and sentenced (later overturned on appeal).

This brings us to the recent election results. Speaker of the House Dade Phelan came in second in his primary election to political novice David Covey. The runoff for this and the other still undecided contested primary elections is on May 28.

This begs the question: Why would anyone vote against arguably the second or third most powerful elected official in state government? This position of power obviously benefits the people of House District 21 and in this case his replacement would not be in a similar position of influence. That one is a head scratcher, if for no other reason than a selfish one for the people that live in District 21.

The amount of money necessary to force that outcome must be truly significant, the actual amounts we may never know. Regardless, a significant number of residents believe they would be better off with someone who not only is inexperienced in state government, but also will not hold any recognizable position of influence. If the Speaker prevails (no guarantee there), he will probably face noticeable headwinds in seeking reelection as Speaker. How this will impact those wishing to participate during the upcoming legislative session remains to be seen, but business as usual (whatever that means) will not be the order of the day. The Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and AG commissioner targeting specific House members and the Speaker is unprecedented. Certainly, in my time around the Capitol, I have never been aware of this type of effort. It does not really make for a congenial atmosphere.  Passing legislation (never an easy task) will not be any less difficult. Careful of your bill authors . . .

The Speaker was not the only targeted House member. The effort by the Governor to root out those who defied him on his voucher initiative, was well-organized and extremely well-funded. Of those that were targeted, eight were defeated on election night and eight were forced into a runoff. Because we don’t know exactly how much was spent, it is difficult to quantify exactly, but regardless, that’s a pretty good outcome for whatever amount was spent. The final score has yet to be tallied, but he and his supporters should be pleased with what they accomplished. How this will translate into the general election and actual members in the House is unknown. There are still some swing districts in Texas, although not many. Colin Allred, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate against Senator Ted Cruz will have money to spend—quite a bit, actually. Although dollars will be spent in traditional Democratic efforts, it is safe to say that money will also be spent against Senator Cruz in these 50%–55% Republican districts. These efforts will have an impact on some of those down ballot races and the Democrats are running candidates in almost all the House seats. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Democrats pick up two or three seats in the Texas House during this cycle.

All of these unknowns make for a very uncertain future. How to move forward: Stay with incumbents who have been supporters and risk going against the Governor’s candidates and expect his retribution. Or, forsake long-time relationships and back the Governor’s picks, knowing full well that these could be unqualified and single-issue types who have no interests beyond their campaign flyers.

“Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” I’m quoting the soap opera, not Socrates.

This too shall pass—all we have to do is swallow it.

—TWGGA Legislative Advocate Kyle Frazier

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