Despite the Republican Party’s sharp and erratic swing to the extreme right over the last five years, there is little doubt in my mind that state Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) would easily have won reelection to a seventh term representing District 122 and north Bexar County in the Texas Legislature.
Instead, he’s decided to call it quits, to live up to past calls he’s made for term limits in elected state office to 12 years. Larson was first elected to the Legislature in 2010.
Larson, a popular former San Antonio city councilman and Bexar County commissioner, always seemed to win by big margins. Gov. Greg Abbott learned that the hard way in 2018 when he targeted Larson, personally engineering a more conservative candidate to challenge Larson, unsuccessfully, in the Republican primary.
Trivia question: Anybody recall the name of Abbott’s guy? Answer: former Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails, who failed, indeed, winning only 40.5% of the vote, despite Abbott appearing in an attack ad against Larson and campaigning against him in the district. Fails’ only issue seemed to be his dubious claim that Larson, a Texas Aggie who enjoys hunting and fishing, was not conservative enough.
Larson and two other legislators were targeted by Abbott after criticizing him for “pay to play” state appointments of big donors. If there is a single word I would associate with Larson it’s “ethics.” Everyone knows big money drives politics, especially for candidates with endless ambitions to stay in public office at all costs. Larson was simply telling the truth, and advocating for the appointment of individuals based on their skills and experience rather than the size of their checkbooks.
With his announcement that he will not seek reelection next year, Larson joins another moderate Republican from San Antonio, former House Speaker Joe Straus, in walking away from the Texas Legislature and the extreme politics of Abbott and other state elected leaders.
Last month the San Antonio Report published a commentary by Larson, “Why Texas needs Joe Straus”, that was widely read and shared around the state. His own announcement now could signal that he will work with Straus, should the former speaker decide to challenge Abbott or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Last year Larson wrote an op-ed headlined, “We need to get rid of the two-party system”, a measure of his own disillusionment with the Texas Republican Party and its agenda. Could Straus and Larson join forces on an Independent Party ticket next year? Such a move would allow them to escape the blood and gore of a Republican primary and guarantee a spot on the November general election ballot.
That would certainly enliven life in Texas in 2022 and perhaps keep a few people from leaving the state for good. Add in Beto O’Rourke on the Democratic side, and we’d probably see a race in which the winning candidate would garner only a plurality of the vote.
For now, let’s just hope Larson’s decision to give up his legislative seat doesn’t mean he is shutting down his Twitter account. Larson tweets what many a Republican thinks but can’t or won’t say about former President Donald Trump and party leaders in Austin.
“Redistricting 2021 in a nutshell: It is not what is right and wrong. It is about winning and losing. Need to figure out a better way to do this crap,” Larson tweeted Tuesday.
Citing an Oct. 10 Dallas Morning News headline reading, “Trump warns of consequences if Texas House speaker doesn’t move quickly on 2020 election audit bill,” Larson tweeted, “The Bully in the yard is walking around threatening everyone who won’t tell him he won. You won Texas, but lost nationally. Get over it.”
Larson’s status as a party outlier was evident in all of the legislative sessions this year. He was the lone House Republican to oppose the elections law that has been widely labeled as an act of voter suppression by legal and election experts. He voted against the bill prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.
Larson also supports expansion of Medicaid in Texas, where 1 in 6 residents are uninsured, the highest rate in the country. Contrary to the misleading talking points Abbott, Patrick, and others espouse, Larson knows states that have accepted federal dollars and expanded Medicaid have not been burdened with undue budget challenges.
What Bexar County and all of Texas lose in Larson is more than a mature and pragmatic centrist. The Legislature loses a self-taught expert in water conservation, management, and use. Larson literally drove the state over a period of couple of years after winning his seat. If he didn’t visit every groundwater district in the state he certainly came close. At a time when a sensible course addressing climate change and extreme weather events must be charted, Texas loses someone who could lead the way with 21st-century policy initiatives.
In Texas, politics trumps the public interest at every turn. Perhaps the political pendulum will swing the other way.
I’ll close with an Oct. 6 tweet from Larson: “Recent polls are trending down for the Governor and Lt. Dan. Gallup polls indicating more folks are identifying as independent. Texas should lead the nation to break the partisan divide that has consumed DC and Austin. Independent candidates like Joe Straus should emerge in 2022.”