How Vulnerable is Dustin Burrows?

Texas House Representative Dustin Burrows, who represents District 83 (Lubbock and a swath of West Texas), resigned his post as Chair of the Republican Caucus in the Texas House, apparently as a result of his role in the scandal currently plaguing Texas Republicans. Although he did not resign from office, he finds himself vulnerable in 2020. 

The Backstory:

On June 12, Burrows was present at a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and CEO of Empower Texans (ET), Michael Quinn Sullivan. Burrows and Bonnen have been credibly accused by Sullivan of offering to provide long-sought House media credentials in exchange for Sullivan using ET PAC money and influence to target a list of Republicans provided by Burrows and Bonnen. If Sullivan’s allegations are true, Burrows’ actions are particularly at odds with his behavior just before the legislative session ended. As Republican Caucus Chair, Burrows oversaw an effort to amend the Caucus bylaws to prohibit members from campaigning against any incumbent Republicans. 

Although Burrows gave no public explanation for his August 16 resignation, it seemed clearly related to the meeting with Sullivan, coming just four days after the incident was referred to the Texas Rangers for investigation. 

On Thursday, August 22, Burrows spoke publicly for the first time about the alleged quid pro quo scandal in an interview with a Lubbock talk show host. Burrows adamantly denied all wrong-doing and called the whole matter “a huge distraction.”

Actually, lots of “distractions.” 

Looming Investigation: Burrows’ behavior in the June 12 meeting is currently under investigation by the Texas Rangers, the top law enforcement agency in Texas. If the Rangers believe there has been wrongdoing, the case could be referred to the Lubbock District Attorney for prosecution.

Inconsistent Behavior: Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Burrows will have to explain to his constituents why he resigned as Chair if he did nothing illegal or unethical in the meeting with Sullivan.

Mounting election challenges: To date, Burrows has had a remarkably easy string of elections, but 2020 is already shaping up to be more difficult. 

In his first election in 2014, Burrows was appointed by six Republican county chairs as the party nominee after the winner of the Republican primary, Charles Perry, dropped out to run in a special election for Texas State Senate. In a solidly red district, Burrows was able to easily defeat Democrat Max Tarbox. 

In 2016, Burrows was unopposed in both the primary and general elections.

In 2018, Burrows was unopposed in the primary. He once again proved the “redness” of Lubbock and surrounding areas in the general election by defeating Democrat Drew Landry with 77 percent of the vote.

For 2020, Burrows will face his first primary challenger, school teacher and band director, David Speer. If the scandal remains in the headlines, more primary challengers are likely to emerge. 

For the general election, Snyder LGBTQ activist and small business owner Addison Perry-Franks has jumped into the race.

Just how vulnerable is he?

When David Speer announced his campaign to challenge Burrows for the Republican nomination, he focused on the district needing a representative with “positive, supporting relationships with constituents.” Speer’s focus on local loyalty may have been a veiled insinuation that Burrows has become a denizen of Austin rather than a representative of West Texas. 

Indeed, Speer may have a point — Burrows’ campaign account arguably reflects a loyalty to Austin. In the last election cycle, only one-third of Burrows’ contributions came from inside his district. The other two-thirds were primarily support from the Austin lobby. So far for 2020, 100 percent of his campaign contributions have come from outside his district; all but three donations were from Austin.

As of the most recent reports, Burrows had $83,702 cash on hand, but the pending Texas Rangers investigation is likely dampening his fundraising efforts. Even if the Austin-based PACs and lobbyists continue to pump money into his account, they still can’t vote for him. It will be interesting to watch if conservative-leaning West Texans will continue to vote for Burrows in the primary once they have a choice. Governor Abbott’s endorsement will help, but as recent election cycles have proven, it is no guarantee. 

For the general election, this district has been considered a “given” for Republicans for decades. But Democrat groups and activists from all over the nation have set their sights on taking control of the Texas House. If they can hold their current position and flip just nine seats to the blue column in 2020, they will control the House and the all-important redistricting process, set to happen in 2020. Democrats would be able to redraw Texas districts in their favor, conceivably setting the stage for Democratic rule in Texas for the foreseeable future. If Democrats smell blood in the water, they might start pumping money into Perry-Franks’ campaign.

Of course, it’s incredibly difficult to unseat an incumbent, but Dustin Burrows isn’t doing himself any favors. Despite being the former head of the Republican caucus and living in one of the most solidly “red” districts, he may be vulnerable to an upset next fall.

Stay tuned. We’ll be watching his campaign accounts and keeping you informed.

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