Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails greets Governor Greg Abbott at a campaign event at Alamo Cafe.
Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails greets Gov. Greg Abbott at a campaign event at Alamo Cafe. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t appear to be holding anything back in his support of Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Lyle Larson in the Republican primary for Texas House District 122.

Abbott released a video advertisement Tuesday that referred to Larson as “Liberal Lyle,” claiming that he voted to weaken Senate Bill 4 and was against “real property tax reform.” On Wednesday, the Governor appeared alongside Fails at a campaign event in San Antonio and doubled down on his criticism of Larson.

“Lyle Larson is one of the most liberal Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives,” Abbott told a crowd of around 150 people Wednesday at a Tex-Mex restaurant on the Northside. “It is time to replace liberal Lyle with conservative Chris Fails.”

The District 122 race is one of three statewide in which Abbott has endorsed primary challengers. Larson, who has represented the district since 2010, said Abbott’s support for his primary opponent stems from a political dispute with the governor.

“I voted for 100% of the governor’s legislative priorities and yet he’s calling me a liberal,” Larson wrote in a text Wednesday to the Rivard Report. “Let’s be clear: he’s attacking me because I passed legislation saying we should eliminate pay-to-play for gubernatorial appointments.”

Fails, whose only experience in elected office is serving as mayor of the incorporated city of about 3,300 residents, honed in on the two issues that Abbott addressed in the video advertisement.

“It’s time that we have a representative in this district that will vote to cap your property taxes,” Fails said. “We need a representative that’s going to work to be sure that we ensure that San Antonio and other cities in the state are not havens for illegal immigrants who come in to break the law.”

Larson responded to Abbott’s advertisement Tuesday on Twitter, disputing the video’s claims. Larson said that he had voted for the final version of SB4, a state law that allows local law enforcement to question the immigration status of any individual detained or arrested, and for a property tax reform bill, Senate Bill 1. Larson’s tweet said that he drew Abbott’s ire solely because he introduced an ethics bill that passed the House last session.

The ethics bill sought to keep governors from appointing individuals to state boards or commissions if those individuals had donated more than $2,500 to the governor in the previous year. The bill died in the Senate.

Abbott said Wednesday that Larson had in fact voted for a “ban on sanctuary cities,” but said he had done so only after first voting against the measure.

Larson previously told the Rivard Report that he would support a property tax cap, somewhere between 2.5 percent and 6 percent, and restated his support for the cap on Wednesday.

Abbott told the crowd assembled at Alamo Cafe that “Liberal Lyle” was not a moniker he created, but rather one that had been demonstrated through studies. He later told the Rivard Report that he was referring to one study by Rice University Professor Mark Jones and another by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.

During roughly 15 minutes of remarks, Abbott also emphasized that Republicans are working to take back Bexar County after it went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. He reiterated this point by later saying, “Texas cannot afford to have California-style policies hijack our state.”

“If we lose Texas to the liberals that are trying to take over our state … there will be no place for you to go to have the freedom and liberty and economic opportunity that Texas so well represents,” Abbott said. “Make sure we cast votes that will keep Texas the premier conservative state in the United States of America.”

Early voting in the primary election began Tuesday. It’s unknown how effective Abbott’s attacks on Larson will be in persuading North San Antonio voters. Shortly after the release of Abbott’s video advertisement, however, the Texas House Republican Caucus tweeted out their support for Larson’s re-election, saying, Larson has “proven that he is prepared to fight for the taxpayers of his district.”

Two other House Republicans are seeing their challengers supported by Abbott in their primaries. The Governor is supporting Susanna Dokupil over State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), and Mayes Middleton over State Rep. Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston).

Larson had a sizable advantage in campaign contributions as of Wednesday. Larson holds $557,035 cash on hand compared to Fails’ $24,937.

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.