Public must determine threshold of hardline conservatism

Noah M. Horwitz

Nearly two years ago in the Texan, I lamented the arms race mentality that had permeated Republican primary politics in this state. In doing so, I examined a handful of rural districts considering whether to throw out their longtime, pragmatic Republican state representative in favor of firebrand Tea Party upstarts. (For what it’s worth, neither of the representatives examined, Byron Cook and Jim Keffer, lost in their primaries). However, I did not ask the more pressing question, one relevant to all Texans: Is there such a thing as “too extreme” for Republican primary voters?

The answer is obviously yes. For example, in 2014, a man named Larry SECEDE Kilgore — he legally changed his middle name —­ ran in the Republican primary for governor against the eventual winner, Greg Abbott. At the time, Kilgore told me his three biggest priorities if elected were, and I quote, “SECEDE! SECEDE! SECEDE!” He told others that LGBT people should be put to death, though he measured those comments by noting he would still welcome the support of gay secessionists. Needless to say, Kilgore did not win.

But Jonathan Stickland did.  Readers of the Texan’s editorial pages will surely be familiar with the sophomore Republican state representative from Bedford, a suburb of Fort Worth. Stickland’s antics this past legislative session include threatening to fight another representative and killing a bill seeking to limit the euthanasia of puppies.

Still, Stickland drew a primary challenger, local pastor Scott Fisher. While it is tempting to think this demonstrates officeholders may be deemed too conservative, Fisher’s website and literature does not give that impression. In fact, it suggests that Fisher — not Stickland — is the legitimate conservative in the race.

For 32-year-old Stickland, it would be rather difficult to contend he has possessed conservative value for “decades.” But the comments serve as a different kind of jab at the incumbent.

Near the end of last year, Fisher’s campaign provided information regarding Stickland’s past online comments to the political site Quorum Report. The posts highlighted Stickland’s past use of marijuana. However, following more research by Quorum Report’s editor, Scott Braddock, more recent online comments show Stickland apparently endorsing marital rape.

“Rape is non existent in marriage, take what you want my friend [sic],” Stickland said in now-deleted posts on a Fantasy Football forum. He was responding to a question posed by another user regarding sex advice.

According to The Texas Tribune, Fisher soon jumped on this revelation as an opportunity to contend Stickland is weak on protecting the victims of sexual assault. Fisher pounded Stickland over his opposition to last year’s House Bill 189, which would have lengthened the statute of limitations on civil suits for such offenses.

The usual actors, for their parts, have taken their place. Tea Party groups and other right-wing assortments have backed Stickland, as have his few legislative allies. But others, including law enforcement groups and former Gov. Rick Perry, have backed Fisher. Of course, the irony — Perry backing the comparably moderate candidate in a primary within his party — is unmistakable.

Cook and Keffer were renominated, but they were in pragmatic districts. Similarly, Kilgore lost, but he was an extremist outlier. But this primary, between archconservative Jonathan Stickland and Scott Fisher, will be a true test of if, even in one of the most conservative constituencies in Texas, there is such a thing as too far.

Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. He is a Senior Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @NmHorwitz.