Luke Macias stood outside state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione’s office at the Texas Capitol and looked dead into the camera.
Macias, a long-time political consultant tied to some of the Legislature’s most conservative lawmakers and stakeholders, had helped elect the Southlake Republican into office several years ago as his chief campaign strategist.
Now, he was apologizing to the entire state of Texas for doing it.
“I’m here to tell you that I’m sorry,” said Macias in a video posted online last month. “Over the last six years, I’ve watched [Capriglione] become every single thing that he campaigned against.”
If you ask Capriglione, he says he’s merely voting his district. If you ask Macias — who’s now heading the campaign for Capriglione’s primary opponent — the lawmaker didn’t execute on his more conservative campaign promises and caved to what some refer to as the “Austin establishment.”
Capriglione’s re-election race this year isn’t the only one that has some filled with buyer’s remorse. Republican state Reps. Chris Paddie of Marshall, Dan Flynn of Canton and Wayne Faircloth of Galveston are being flanked on the right by challengers touting endorsements from two prominent groups in particular – Empower Texans and the political arm of Texas Right to Life — that once backed those lawmakers they’re now trying to unseat.
And the primary elections in Texas next week could test how much sway those groups still hold with voters.
But Capriglione found himself widely shunned by those former allies and activists in 2015, when he cast a ballot for Republican House Speaker Joe Straus over a candidate who campaigned to the right of Straus.
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, a name Empower Texans uses for endorsements and legislative rankings, said its support for candidates come down to what a lawmaker received on its “Fiscal Responsibility Index,” the group’s method for measuring lawmakers’ performance on votes taken throughout the legislative session that are related to “size and role of government issues.” The higher the score, according to the group’s index, the more fiscally responsible that lawmaker is.
“Texans for Fiscal Responsibility endorses candidates who have a demonstrated commitment to fiscal conservatism and limited government,” said Cary Cheshire, vice-president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “When politicians break their promises to taxpayers they should expect citizens to look to replace them.”
Another politically active group, the political arm of Texas Right to Life, which advocates against abortion access, has caused some head-scratching with their endorsement decisions.
Take Capriglione, who received an endorsement and a 100 percent rating from the influential anti-abortion group’s “Pro-Life scorecard” every session he’s been in the House. This round, Capriglione has maintained that 100 percent rating, but the organization’s PAC has endorsed his primary opponent, Keller City Council member Armin Mizani.
In a February news release backing Mizani, the group pegged Capriglione as a lawmaker who pushed “anemic Pro-Life bills in lieu of life-saving bills in order to claim nominal Pro-Life victories.” They also accused Capriglione of being “involved in the death of his own bill,” which referred to an anti-abortion measure he authored during the regular 2017 legislative session. The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill but never reached a deal on a version that could pass both chambers.
Texas Right to Life’s PAC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Capriglione, who dismissed the group’s endorsement of Mizani, insisted he’s consistently voted for “pro-life” measures as a lawmaker.
“I can’t speak for [those groups] at all,” he told the Tribune. “I can tell you that by any measure, I am a conservative — and that’s partly based on the fact I have a 100 percent pro-life record … The fact that they disagree with me now is politics.”
Mizani, meanwhile, said every organization has a right to endorse whoever they want, and that the Texas Right to Life PAC in particular backs candidates who pledge to push for “pro-life legislation” at all times — not when it’s just politically convenient.
“If it wasn’t for Gov. Greg Abbott calling for a special session, then the bill would have never passed,” he said. “Capriglione did what was politically expedient — he knew he was going to get a primary challenger at that point.”
Empower Texans has also backed Mizani financially this election cycle. Its affiliated political action committee invested $ 55,000 into the candidate’s campaign and spent another $ 2,800 on polling, campaign finance reports show.
Similar scenarios are playing out in other state House races across the state. Paddie and Faircloth, like Capriglione, have both maintained 100 percent scorecard ratings with Texas Right to Life since they joined the Legislature and received endorsements from the group’s PAC in 2014 and 2016.
But this election cycle, the PAC is backing their primary challengers — former Marshall city commissioner Garrett Boersma in Paddie’s race and oil and gas businessman Mayes Middleton in Faircloth’s race. Both challengers have also picked up endorsements from Empower Texans. Boersma has received $ 10,000 from the group’s PAC and a $ 2,800 non-monetary political contribution for “polling data,” according to campaign finance reports.
Faircloth said he was not sure what prompted Texas Right to Life’s change of heart, suggesting Empower Texans may be impacting other group’s political decisions.
“Their agenda seems to be to elect candidates with which they can control,” he told the Tribune, speaking of Empower Texans. “I’m not one of those guys. What would Texas have to look like to satisfy them?”
Meanwhile, Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life have over the years backed Flynn, who was first elected to the state House in 2002. In 2012, Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan called Flynn a “strong, commonsense conservative” in his re-election bid.
But by 2015, Empower Texans was publicly criticizing Flynn, accusing him of having “sold out to the Austin establishment.” That election cycle, businessman Bryan Slaton announced a bid to unseat Flynn and drew support from Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life’s PAC. The groups’ opposition to Flynn in 2016 seemed expected: He had accumulated a “C” rating with Empower Texans and an 89 percent score with Texas Right to Life. That year, Flynn narrowly edged out Slaton with fewer than 600 votes of the 30,000 cast.
This year, Slaton is again running to unseat Flynn. And even though Flynn has a perfect score with Texas Right to Life, the group has backed Slaton. Empower Texans has also endorsed Slaton for a second time, and its PAC has donated $ 50,000 to his campaign, along with a non-monetary political contribution worth $ 2,800, per campaign finance reports.
Flynn dismissed the opposition to his campaign, saying, “You’re with them 100 percent of the time, or you’re against them.”
And Capriglione, the Southlake Republican running for a fourth term in the House, said he’s confident GOP voters will side with his record over Mizani’s promises made on the campaign trail.
“That’s all this is, right?” he said. “It’s politics.”