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Contentious Texas lieutenant governor's race is a 2018 rematch

 Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, faces Democratic challenger Mike Collier again in 2022 after narrowly defeating him in 2018.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT News
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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, faces Democratic challenger Mike Collier again in 2022 after narrowly defeating him in 2018.

Former Republican-turned-moderate Democrat Mike Collier will once again challenge Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas.

In a recent attack ad from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick against his Democratic opponent Mike Collier, Patrick accuses Collier of being an extremist candidate: pushing for “open borders,” abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and banning charter schools.

The only problem, Collier says, is none of that is true.

“I don’t recognize the person he’s running against, he’s not running against the real Mike Collier,” Collier said. “Most of what he says is not true. You know, as someone who comes from the business world like I do, we really prefer people to be honest. I guess in politics I have to tolerate it.”

It’s the latest salvo in what’s become a contentious battle for one of the most influential jobs in Texas. Patrick, the incumbent Republican, is seeking a third term against Collier, a former Republican turned moderate Democrat.

According to recent polling, Patrick holds a comfortable lead over Collier. But whoever wins will hold a lot of political power: The lieutenant governor presides over the Texas Senate, helps shape the state’s legislative agenda, and oversees the budget and redistricting.

And this year’s contest is a rematch, after Patrick narrowly defeated Collier four years ago.

Patrick’s already spent $19 million on advertising, some of which helped launch the attack ad that ruffled feathers in the Collier camp. In response to the ad, Collier’s attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to the state’s major television stations, demanding they either force Patrick’s campaign to provide citations for the claims — or stop running the ads altogether — citing Federal Communications Commission regulations on deceptive advertising, requiring broadcasters to ensure ads they air aren’t false or misleading.

Patrick did not respond to requests for comment, but defended the ad during a late October campaign stop in Beaumont.

“Our ads are still on the air,” Patrick said. “No TV station has asked us to take them down, because what we said, we stand by.”

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the attack ad suggests Patrick sees Collier’s campaign as a threat.

He said it’s also an attempt to poke holes in Collier’s image as a moderate.

“That’s been a challenge for Collier to try to counteract,” Rottinghaus said. “Because the race is so national, it’s hard for him to be able to say that he’s a unique kind of Democrat when the perception is all Democrats are liberal.”

Collier says his focus has been on appealing to independent voters and those who may feel disconnected from the GOP as it moves further to the right. While Patrick has tried to paint Collier as a leftist Democrat, the challenger says he’s against extremism on all sides.

“I think the legislature should stay focused on the real problems, not chase these culture wars issues,” he said. “We’ve got problems to solve. In a democracy, you roll up your sleeves and work together to solve these problems.”

As Senate leader, Patrick spearheaded a number of strict laws on voting, guns and abortion in the last legislative session.

Alex Brandon
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Associated Press

Prominent members of the party — including Patrick — have also courted the endorsement of former president Donald Trump, who continues to spread the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

In the wake of that election, in which the former president insisted without evidence that mass voter fraud cost him the race, Patrick offered up at least $25,000 of his own campaign funds to anyone who could provide proof of fraud in Texas.

Patrick, who also served as the Trump campaign's former Texas chairman, received that endorsement in May. In a statement, the former president called him, “a great fighter for the people of Texas.”

"Texans should re-elect him! He is outstanding and has my Complete and Total Endorsement!" Trump wrote.

That endorsement will likely go a long way to securing enthusiasm from the Republican base, and could be the deciding factor if Patrick does win reelection. But the party’s rightward shift — and Patrick’s embrace of it — could also turn off some moderate Republicans, Rottinghaus said.

“There are a lot of Republicans out there who like the party’s focus on taxes, low regulations and keeping budgets pretty tight,” he said. “The more that the party deviates from that, the more a lot of Republicans in the middle are uncomfortable with the direction of the party.”

 Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has held elected office in the county since 1997, when he became a county commissioner. He's led county government as county judge since 2007.
Miranda Suarez
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KERA
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has held elected office in the county since 1997, when he became a county commissioner. He's led county government as county judge since 2007.

Some prominent Texas Republicans have broken with their party to endorse Collier over Patrick — including Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who took issue with what he said is Patrick’s infringement on local sovereignty. The lieutenant governor helped pass Senate Bill 2, which limits how much local governments can raise property taxes without holding an election first.

“Patrick has had eight years as lieutenant governor and eight years before that as a senator,” Whitley said. “During that time, instead of trying to unite folks, he’s done everything in his power he can to divide them, to paint the local elected officials as the enemy.”

Whitely said he thinks Collier, on the other hand, wants to work with local officials.

“Collier recognizes that we are the ones that have to implement a lot of the laws that are passed by the state and wants to treat us as partners in this deal,” he said.

Among the group of Republicans who endorsed Collier, only Whitley is still in office. He's serving out his last term as county judge, opting not to seek reelection in 2022.

Despite Patrick’s strong lead, Rottinghaus said Collier's best hope is to win over enough moderate Republicans to stand a chance.

"Republicans need big numbers from rural areas and they need to have moderates on their side, especially these independents who typically lean conservative," he said. "Collier's the kind of Democrat that could potentially sneak enough votes away from the Republican Party that he might be able to pull an upset."

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Rebekah Morr
Bekah Morr is KERA's Morning Edition producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered. While there, she produced stories and segments for a national audience, covering everything from rising suicide rates among police officers, to abuse allegations against Nike coaches and everything in between. Before that, she interned for a year on Think with Krys Boyd, helping to research, write and produce the daily talk-show. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, Bekah spent her formative journalism years working at the student news organization The Shorthorn. As editor in chief, she helped create the publication’s first, full-color magazine.