Texas Sorghum Insider

March 9, 2018

Incumbents Face, Largely Survive, Wave of Primary Challengers—On Tuesday, March 6 Texans from all parties lined up to vote in primary elections ahead of the fall 2018 midterms. Given Texas’s status as the first state in the nation to hold primary elections, the results were widely reported on by national media as a bellwether of President Trump’s approval in a traditionally conservative state. However, to Texans and those focused on the state legislature, this week’s elections were a test of a different phenomenon: the influence of far-right campaigns against moderate Republican incumbents.

When five-time Speaker of the House Joe Straus, a moderating force within the Republican party, announced last October he would not seek reelection in 2018, many in the far-right saw their opportunity to seize the political influence that Speaker Straus had denied them in the past. Although certain groups such as Empower Texans pumped more money into candidates challenging moderate incumbents than most, these challengers were supported and motivated by many different figures and factors.

Before breaking down the various challenges to moderate incumbents, it’s important to note that one race was unique in both the backing of the challenger and its importance to Texas agriculture. In his challenge for Commissioner of Agriculture, Austin-based lobbyist Trey Blocker, who was largely self-financed and was not a priority of groups seeking to oust moderate Republicans, was soundly defeated by incumbent Sid Miller. Blocker campaigned as the more conservative alternative to Commissioner Miller. Key tenets of Blocker’s campaign included promises to reverse the Texas Department of Agriculture’s unpopular fee increases, harsher treatment of undocumented immigrants, and an all-around reduction of the Department’s services. Blocker’s message, however, failed to resonate with voters and he fell to third place in the primary results, behind former Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Jim Hogan, who refused to fundraise or campaign. Commissioner Miller received 56% of the vote, avoiding a runoff and almost certainly securing his second term as Texas Agriculture Commissioner.

When looking at state house and state senate races, two common themes emerge. There are races where far-right groups applied pressure on incumbents and there are races where Republican party leaders applied pressure on incumbents. Each of these approaches had mixed results, but incumbents were largely successful in defending their seats.

In the case of the former (far-right groups supporting challenges to moderates) there were two notable races in the house. Representative Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), chairman of the House Administration committee and close ally of Speaker Straus, won 57%-43% against Bo French, one of Empower Texans’ top candidates. Representative Ken King (R-Canadian) also successfully defended his seat against an Empower Texans’ candidate, avoiding a runoff against Jason Huddleston by a mere 103 votes.

Statewide Republican leaders also supported challenges to moderate incumbents. In the House, Governor Greg Abbott campaigned and financed challengers to three Republicans: Representative Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), and Representative Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston). Despite the Governor’s intervention, though, Representatives Davis and Larson each won by more than ten percentage points. Representative Faircloth was defeated by Mayes Middleton, an oilman who also enjoyed the financial backing of Empower Texans.

In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick played a role in two important primary races. After tensions between the Lt. Governor and Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) over state support for public schools, each of the Republicans decided to stay out of each other’s campaigns. Senator Seliger was the only Republican not to endorse Lt. Governor Patrick (although he did not endorse his challenger, either) and Lt. Governor Patrick did not publicly intervene in Senator Seliger’s race. However, Lt. Governor Patrick is a close ally of Empower Texans, who pumped significant money into Midland Mayor Mike Canon’s challenge and one of Lt. Governor Patrick’s top consultants was reported to be employed by Senator Seliger’s second challenger, restaurateur Victor Leal. Senator Seliger avoided a runoff with Mike Canon by just 322 votes. Lt. Governor Patrick was considerably more involved in Representative Pat Fallon’s challenge to incumbent Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), both contributing funds and conducting polling for the three-term House member. Representative Fallon rode that support to a resounding victory over Senator Estes, winning 62% of the vote to Senator Estes’s 22%.

There were many other noteworthy results this week from across the state. The Texas congressional delegation is facing its largest turnover in decades, and many of those races were effectively determined on Tuesday. If you have any questions about these results, what the state of any races headed into the general election this fall, or would like to discuss the above races further, please contact Patrick Wade at patrick@texassorghum.org.

Transform WG Receives Section 18—Recently, the EPA granted a Section 18 emergency use exemption for Transform WG insecticide for use on sorghum. Sates receiving approval included Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Applications for Section 18 emergency exemptions in additional sorghum-producing states are pending. For more information, click here.

Leadership Sorghum Class IV Application Deadline Next Week—The Sorghum Checkoff is accepting applications for Leadership Sorghum Class IV, a program designed to develop the next generation of sorghum leaders. During the 15-month leadership program, class members will be exposed to various aspects of the sorghum industry in addition to personal development and networking opportunities. Class members will participate in both hands-on and classroom-style learning experiences to gain an understanding of how sorghum moves through the value chain, how checkoffs and stakeholder organizations interact on behalf of the industry and what the future holds for sorghum. Eligible applicants must be farmers actively engaged in sorghum production in the United States. Fifteen growers will be accepted into the program’s fourth class. Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. March 16, 2018. Applications, class schedule and program criteria can be found here.

Export Report—Shipments for the week reached an all time high with China taking the delivery of 16.6 million bushels. Japan also taking deliveries this week and these shipments bring total shipments for the marketing year up to 134.8 million bushels. We have already shipped approximately 55 percent of the project export total for the marketing year. Texas Gulf bids are 110 percent of corn or $5.11 per bushel at the vessel. This does not reflect farmer price but instead is a representation of what exporters are willing to pay. This premium has declined over the last few weeks but remains in place as sorghum is being shipped at a rapid pace. Basis has also softened further north where central Kansas terminals are now bidding -50 for sorghum. However, corn bids are -45 so interior feed grain basis overall has softened.

HPWD Accepting Water Depletion Data Requests—With tax season upon us, HPWD is now accepting requests for data to claim a cost-in-water income tax depletion allowance. This yearly program uses annual water level measurements to determine changes in the water table throughout the District. The information is then made available to land owners for use in preparation of their taxes to determine if a loss of water under their property may constitute a tax break. For more information, click here.