07/10/18

Race to Raise: Leman vs. Wolfskill

Runoff elections in Texas primaries are notoriously long. From the time the initial March primaries are over and a crowded field is cleared, the remaining two candidates have nearly three more months of campaigning before voters make their final choice. Often, this setup causes the person in the lead to lose momentum and the “underdog” to emerge victorious. This is exactly what happened in Texas House District 13.

Spanning seven counties in Central Texas, the HD 13 seat was occupied by State Representative Leighton Schubert who shocked politicos when he announced — just a few weeks before the filing deadline — that not only was he declining to seek re-election, but he also intended to resign his position before the current term was over. Schubert cited the need to focus on his family.

The initial primary saw six candidates — five male and one female — throw their hat in the ring. Bellville businesswoman and homeschool mom Jill Wolfskill earned first place at 38.47% of the vote, with Grimes County Judge Ben Leman close on her heels with 36.28%. In the runoff, Leman overtook Wolfskill 57.3% to 42.7%.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

Texas House District 13 – By The Numbers
Ben Leman – Primary   Ben Leman – Runoff  Jill Wolfskill – Primary Jill Wolfskill – Runoff
Total Money Raised $75,137.50 $325,318.61 $125,812.72 $253,177.58
Total Number of Donations 109  103 135 93
Average Donation Amount $689.33 $3,158.43 $931.95 $2,722.34
Total Money Raised In-District $26,345.00 $9,745.00 $42,307.52 $10,390.00
Total Number of Donations In-District  64  27 90 48
Percent of All Money Raised From In-District 35.06% 3% 33.63% 4.1%
Total Money Raised Outside District $48,792.50 $315,573.61 $83,505.20 $242,787.58
Total Number of Donations Outside District 45 76 45 45
Percent of All Money Raised From Outside District 64.94% 97% 66.37% 95.9%
Total Expenditures $165,585.04 $228,708.17 $152,568.06 $210,026.14
Total Votes 8,424 8,062 8,932 6,000
Cost Per Vote $19.66 $28.39 $17.08 $35.00

Schubert managed to avoid the ire of both the more liberal House leadership team as well as the Republican party’s conservative wing. Based on the financial contributors to Schubert’s successor, Leman, it appears he will align more closely with liberal-to-moderate House Republicans, but only time will tell. Given the high stakes of the 2019 Legislative Session, particularly due to the open race for House Speaker, Leman may be forced to choose a side, whereas Schubert was not.

Key Takeaways from the HD 13 Race:

  1. Moderate/Liberal vs. Conservative Republican PACs.
    HD 13 was yet another battleground between political action committees working to impact Republican Primary elections in Texas. Four of Leman’s top five donors were moderate or liberal Republican PACs with Associated Republicans of Texas giving $98,388.89, Texas Farm Bureau giving $40,000, Texans for Lawsuit Reform giving $32,115.22, and Texas Association of Realtors giving $20,000. Two of Wolfskill’s top five donors were conservative Republican PACs with Texas Right to Life giving $105,152, and Empower Texans giving $50,045. PACs like these don’t invest this kind of money without knowing a prospective lawmaker’s ideology. Thus, HD 13 appears to be a win for the moderate/liberal Republican wing of the party.
  2. Toll Roads in Rural Central Texas?
    Randy Rogers, CEO of the Houston-based Williams Brothers Construction Company, donated $25,000 to Leman. Rogers’ next largest donation to Texas politics has been $5,000 to Democrat Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner in 2015. What do a Democrat metropolitan mayor and a rural Central Texas Republican house seat have in common? Toll roads. Williams Brothers Construction has contracts valued at half-a-billion dollars to construct a toll road through Grimes County, part of HD 13.
  3. Family Split.
    Bill Leman, the brother of candidate Leman, donated $250 to Wolfskill, his brother’s opponent. In fact, Bill Leman authored a local op-ed bringing to light actions around the family business he ran with Ben and touting support for Wolfskill. Rarely in politics do family members endorse an opponent over one of their own, let alone support the opponent financially. Ultimately however, voters believed Ben’s story over Bill’s. Time will tell who wasn’t being honest with voters.

Before you go

Both Leman and Wolfskill loaned themselves money to run for HD 13, and both made sure they were repaid later with campaign dollars. Leman repaid himself $26,202.76 while Wolfskill reimbursed herself $36,672.02 from her campaign. Both candidates did so before the runoff was over. While it’s not unusual for candidates to repay their personal loans with other people’s campaign donations, it’s typically done after the election with any remaining money. It’s difficult to justify doing so before the election is over, when dollars that could have gone to influencing voters instead went to making sure both candidates were made whole financially.

 

Our Race to Raise series takes a deeper look at the most high-profile races of the election cycle, focusing specifically on money raised by those seeking to serve in public office. Stay tuned for the next installment.

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