Piece of Mind: This GOP Runoff Is a Head-Scratcher

Mar 17, 2020

By John Kanelis

It’s fair to wonder about the upcoming runoff election for a Northeast Texas legislative district seat: How does someone as conservative as state Rep. Dan Flynn face a primary challenge from the right?

Flynn, a Van Republican, is running against Bryan Slaton, a businessman from Royse City. The two are running for the House District 2 seat that Flynn has occupied since 2003.

Let’s be clear about this point: Flynn is about as conservative a legislator as there is among the 150 men and women who serve in the Texas House of Representatives. He touts his conservative credentials with pride. That hasn’t dissuaded Slaton from challenging Flynn twice already. He lost narrowly to Flynn in the 2016 and 2018 Republican primaries. He’s back at it again, having forced a runoff with Flynn, by denying the incumbent – along with a third GOP contender – the outright majority he needed to win the GOP nomination outright on Super Tuesday.

The word is that Flynn, despite his conservative voting record in the Texas House, allegedly has compromised himself by being too close to the Austin political “establishment.” Well, to those of us who’ve been watching state politics for some time, the Austin “establishment” usually comprises those on the left and far-left end of the political spectrum. I mean, they don’t call it “The People’s Republic of Austin” for no reason, if you get my drift.

How conservative is Rep. Flynn? Consider that he once proposed legislation that would have required that all public documents be published in English only as a way to get all Texans to speak English. He aimed the legislation at non-English-speaking Texas residents, who comprise an ever-increasing percentage of the state’s total population.

Then came a bit of controversy surrounding a bill he proposed during the 2017 Legislature. Flynn wanted to allow members of the Texas State Guard – which is not a military organization – access to veteran benefits. Flynn, by the way, happens to belong to the State Guard. Legislators who are veterans rose up to defeat the bill by the largest margin of any bill defeated during the 2017 session.

After defeating Slaton in the 2018 GOP primary, Flynn promoted the idea of allowing public school teachers to display the Ten Commandments in their classrooms. Progressives argue that such displays violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment ban on mixing government institutions with religion. Flynn doesn’t see it that way, arguing that teachers should be allowed to espouse the “values” contained in the Ten Commandments.

This is a bit of a curious runoff contest, given that intraparty challenges usually pit challengers against incumbents who tilt in opposite directions. Flynn and Slaton look to me as if they’re far more alike than otherwise.

The runoff is set for May 28.

However … and this is another factor worth considering, but the coronavirus pandemic might forestall the runoff from occurring if the Texas secretary of state determines there is too heavy a risk to voters and election judges who will be mingling at polling places.

I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned to see how this medical emergency plays out. It might give us all more time to make sense of a curious Republican Party contest.

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.