Texas Winner of the Year: Don Huffines

Commentary: Reagan Reed

It’s hard to tell who the governor of Texas is right now: Greg Abbott, or Don Huffines? Yes, Abbott is technically the one living in the governor’s mansion, but it seems like for the last several months at least, Huffines has been the one setting the agenda. That is why Don Huffines is the Texas Citizen Journal’s Texas Winner of the Year.

The Texas Citizen Journal’s winners and losers of the year are determined by who used their political capital effectively and who lost it, regardless of party or ideology. It is not necessarily an endorsement or condemnation of any particular politician. Sometimes the loser could be someone we like, or the winner could be someone with whom we profoundly disagree.

Huffines is a long time conservative activist and former one term Texas State Senator from the Dallas area. Although not a household name like some other candidates in the governor’s race, he is well known among Republican activists, especially around the DFW area. Huffines is challenging Abbott in the Republican primary, asserting that the incumbent governor is insufficiently conservative. And while Huffines might not be as well known as Abbott, who is a frequent guest on FOX, name ID happens to be something money can buy. Huffines, a wealthy businessman and developer, has plenty.

Huffines is a close confidant of Ron Paul and Rand Paul, both of whom are endorsing his campaign. His record in the Texas Senate was very conservative, with a libertarian flair. However, in his campaign for governor, he has sought to tap into the wave of right wing populism sweeping the GOP, and in speeches he throws out plenty of red meat to the base.

Abbott will also be facing former Congressman and Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West and entertainer Chad Prather in the GOP primary. Yet despite West’s star power and national name ID, it seems that Huffines has emerged as Abbott’s most formidable foe.

West doesn’t seem to have much of a campaign infrastructure, and is behind in the money game. Huffines on the other hand is running a well oiled machine of a campaign, with massive ad spending and a frenetic schedule of statewide appearances. You can hardly go to a political event, however small, without bumping into one of his volunteers or staffers. If West is counting on his national profile and a few speaking gigs at Lincoln Dinners to get himself into a runoff against Abbott, he may be in for a rude awakening on election night.

Abbott certainly seems to be taking Huffines the most seriously out of his primary challengers. He is determined not to let Huffines claim the ground even an inch to his right. As a result, whenever Huffines stakes out a position on an issue, you can bet money that Abbott will have taken the same stance by the end of the week.

Abbott’s race to the right with Huffines has been truly fascinating to watch. Abbott is by nature a cautious, establishment politician. Although he plays right-wing culture warrior on FOX, he has actually accomplished very little when it comes to actual conservative policy. However, the threat of a primary challenge has certainly lit a fire under him.

It’s likely that at least a couple of this year’s special sessions were thanks to Abbott wanting to burnish his conservative credentials in the face of a challenge from Huffines. No sooner had Huffines called for Texas to finish Trump’s border wall, Abbott announced he would build the wall. Huffines called for an audit of the 2020 election, and soon after Abbott announced there would be an audit. Huffines called attention to a page targeted to LGBT youth on a state website, and it was almost immediately removed. You get the idea…

Huffines is not even the governor, and yet in many areas he has managed to dictate state policy. He is the most powerful person in Texas who is not an elected official.

Abbott should still be regarded as the overwhelming favorite to win, given his incumbency, name ID, vast war chest, and endorsement from former president Donald Trump. The incumbent certainly seems to not be taking any chances though.

However, even if Huffines’ longshot bid to become governor comes up short, his campaign will have been a success. By putting pressure on Abbott, he has succeeded in enacting many of his policies in 2021. He has pulled the most powerful elected official in Texas to the right, and moved the Overton Window substantially. Huffines may even have a better chance in a few years- it’s no secret that Abbott wants to be president, and as the 2022 runner up Huffines would be a strong contender for what could be an open seat next time.

Very few candidates have had as much influence without even holding an office as Huffines has this year. That is why he is the Texas Citizen Journal’s 2021 Winner of the Year for Texas.

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? We want to hear from you! Contact the editor by email at reaganreednews@gmail.com or by phone at 936-777-0743.

Published by Reagan Reed

Reagan is a journalist and educator from East Texas. He has been involved in numerous campaigns, worked at the Texas Legislature, and covered Texas politics for years as a journalist.

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