On a night when some Texas Republicans felt the wrath of the party’s right wing, State Rep. Dan Flynn kept his office – but just barely. By the time late numbers from Van Zandt County finally rolled in, to the joy of bleary-eyed politicos from Sulphur Bluff to Edom, Flynn had defeated challenger Bryan Slaton by a paltry 369 votes.
Flynn, a businessman and rancher from Van, has represented Texas House of Representatives District 2 since 2003. That was an era ago in politics, back when the Republican Party in Texas and nationwide had yet to experience the contentious rift between mainstream conservatives and movement conservatives that exists today. Flynn has a conservative record of service and a list of endorsements that includes the likes of David Barton, known for the Wallbuilders organization, a prominent voice in politicized evangelical Christianity.
But challenger Bryan Slaton has a conservative pedigree of his own. Slaton, a former Baptist minister and current businessman in the booming community of Royse City, has a record of local activism. When a generally unpopular toll road threatened to blaze a path of eminent domain from Rowlett to Greenville, Slaton took the reins of a grassroots movement to stop the private developers behind the project.
The “Northeast Gateway” toll road never made it past the drawing board, thanks in part to local pressure on the North Central Texas Council of Governments Transportation Division. During Slaton’s campaign to unseat Flynn, Slaton accused Flynn of refusing to help efforts to stop the road.
Flynn dismissed those claims by pointing to the fact that he helped author the bill that eventually stopped private developers from pursuing such projects by closing the loophole that allowed them the right to use eminent-domain authority.
Slaton, meanwhile, assembled a list of endorsements that included Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, and Texas Right to Life. As former State Sen. Bob Deuell learned in 2014, when Deuell lost to political upstart Bob Hall, the economic and social clout of such groups can topple even masterful political leaders.
As Tuesday night slipped into Wednesday morning, final numbers from Hopkins County and Hunt County came in. Once those ballots were totaled, Flynn led by about 300-400 votes. About 20 percent of District 2 precincts – all in Van Zandt County -- remained uncounted.
Would Flynn’s home county help him squeak by? Or would that same part of the electorate, which helped boot Deuell from office by a similarly tight margin, punish a well-established incumbent once again?
In the wee hours of Wednesday, the last numbers were tallied. Flynn: 14,811 votes, good for 50.6 percent of the vote. Slaton: 14,442 votes, 49.4 percent.
Flynn didn’t face an opponent in the 2014 GOP primary. In 2012, he won the primary with about 60 percent of the vote. In 2010, Flynn’s totals were around 65 percent. Flynn won the 2008 Republican primary with near 85 percent of the vote.
Identifying such a statistical trend doesn’t require much mathematical wizardry. The movement conservatives did not succeed in taking away Flynn’s office in the 2016 primary. But it’s a safe bet that they did grab his attention.