By James Barragán
Voters in the Republican primary runoffs stuck with traditional center-right candidates over hard-line conservatives Tuesday in an election night that held the center for the Texas House.
As of 10:35 p.m., more traditionally center-right candidates had claimed victory in five of the seven Republican runoffs. The results could play a major role at the beginning of next year's legislative session, when the House Republican Caucus is expected to push to elect a more conservative leader to replace retiring Speaker Joe Straus.
Straus presided over a record-tying five terms as speaker by mustering a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. Those two groups will likely try to select a speaker cut out of the same cloth as Straus.
Straus proclaimed victory and congratulated the winners late Tuesday night.
"Once again, Republican primary voters have shown overwhelming support for responsible candidates who will put their communities first and take a serious approach to the state's challenges," Straus said in a prepared statement. "The results in these runoffs and in the March primaries clearly demonstrate that Republican voters want constructive and pragmatic leadership for our fast-growing state."
In a race seen as a litmus test for the Republican base, Cody Harris beat Thomas McNutt to become the GOP candidate in House District 8. He is almost sure to succeed outgoing Rep. Byron Cook, who is retiring, in the heavily conservative four-county district that stretches from Hillsboro in the west to Palestine in the east.
Cook, a longtime Straus lieutenant, is a moderate Republican who slowed the progress of a slew of hot-button issues as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, including the so-called bathroom bill last year.
McNutt had the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz and Energy Secretary Rick Perry and has been highly critical of Straus, which garnered him support from the conservative group Empower Texans.
Most of Harris' support came from the Texas Farm Bureau and local politicos in the district.
In District 107 in eastern Dallas County, businesswoman and lawyer Deanna Metzger was leading the more centrist Joe Ruzicka to challenge Rep. Victoria Neave in November.
Neave, who was named the Democratic Caucus' "Freshman of the Year," fasted during the debate around the sanctuary cities bill and successfully authored a bill to help fund the testing of rape kits. But her seat in the Capitol could be at risk after a highly publicized arrest on charges of drunken driving.
In southern Dallas County, Carl Sherman was leading Deshaundra Lockhart Jones in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Helen Giddings, who is retiring after representing District 109 for 26 years.
Straus' successor in District 121
In the race to replace Straus in his San Antonio district, Steve Allison beat out Matt Beebe, a favorite of groups like Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life who had twice run unsuccessfully against Straus. The retiring House speaker endorsed Allison to be his successor in House District 121.
In District 62 in the Sherman/Denison area, the more centrist Reggie Smith beat Brent Lawson, who was backed by more hard-line conservative groups to become the Republican nominee to replace outgoing Larry Phillips.
In another high-profile Democratic race, Sheryl Cole beat out Jose "Chito" Vela III and will likely become the representative for Austin's deep-blue District 46, previously held by Rep. Dawnna Dukes, continuing the district's tradition of having an African-American representative.
(c)2018 The Dallas Morning News