From Beto O'Rourke to Don Huffines, There's Little Room for Centrists in Austin

The middle of the road is a good place to get run over these days in Austin politics.
The middle of the road is a good place to get run over these days in Austin politics. Photo by Dale Honeycutt on Unsplash
With Democrat Beto O’Rourke finally announcing that he’s entering the governor’s race, Texas politics are seriously heating up. Yet some have noticed that the state’s current slate of candidates seem to straddle the extremes of the ideological spectrum.

Political experts say it's becoming increasingly difficult to run as a centrist in the Lone Star State.

For his part, O’Rourke turned off many Texas voters following comments he made on the presidential campaign trail in 2019. During a Democratic primary debate, O’Rourke vowed that if elected, he’d prioritize assault-weapon buybacks. When asked if that meant he’d “[take] away” people’s guns, O’Rourke declared: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

That claim has come back to haunt him, with some Democrats saying they can’t stomach gun control measures. So, following O’Rourke’s announcement, uber-conservative gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines pounced on his potential opponent.

“Beto O’Rourke is a radical Leftist whose views on abortion, gun rights, and just about everything else are outright hostile to the values of everyday Texans,” the Republican real estate developer wrote in a statement. “I look forward to not only beating [Gov.] Greg Abbott in the Republican primary but also beating Beto O’Rourke in the November general election.”

But many Texans have also argued that Huffines’ views don’t comport with their own values.
On Friday, Huffines lashed out at the Denton Public Library, which was set to host “Rainbow Family Storytime” this weekend. The Nov. 20 event would have coincided with the Transgender Day of Remembrance and was meant to recognize diversity and inclusion, according to the library’s website.

Huffines, who once accused Abbott of using taxpayer dollars to “advocate for transgender ideology,” called on the city to cancel Rainbow Family Storytime. He also wanted the employees who approved the event to be fired, arguing that libraries shouldn’t be “spaces where public employees take the innocence of kids and replace it with Leftist sexual indoctrination."

“All across the nation, the radical Left is at war with families for the safety and innocence of their children,” Huffines said in a statement. “In Texas, we must have courageous leadership willing to fight back.”

The event, which would not have taught kids about gender identity or sexual orientation, was nonetheless canceled on Monday because of safety concerns, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported.

"Democrats, I mean, we did it to ourselves." – Colin Strother, Democratic strategist

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Another far-right political hopeful is reentering the ring: Dallas hair salon owner Shelley Luther.

Last year, Luther was briefly jailed after opening her salon in defiance of a statewide order that temporarily closed certain businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19. From there, Luther began appearing on conservative media channels, attracting a considerable following.

Next, Luther opted to try her hand at politics. She branded herself as more conservative than Republican state Rep. Drew Springer, to whom she lost her bid for Texas Senate last December.

But now, Luther is again eyeing the state Capitol, launching a campaign for Texas House District 62, which covers Delta, Fannin and Grayson counties. In a video posted to her Facebook on Monday, Luther said it’s time to stand up against “evil CRT.”

“Right now, the situation in Texas is worse than ever, and people are being forced out of work because they won’t take a vaccine. And children are being told to hate each other because of skin color. And Texas sovereignty is being destroyed as illegals stream across the border,” she said. “None of this is OK.”
Some have speculated that both parties are scurrying further to the extremes. Texas Democratic political consultant Colin Strother agrees that it’s getting tougher to run as a centrist in the state.

On the same day of O’Rourke’s announcement, one of the most senior members of the state’s Democratic House delegation said he was switching parties, Strother noted. In a statement, state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City explained that his values fall more in line with the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, the far-left’s rhetoric and the posture the party has taken have likely weakened liberals' chances of winning statewide, Strother said. Democrats adopted calls to “defund the police” knowing it wouldn’t perform well within certain Texas enclaves; they also talked of taking people’s guns and opening the border.

“Democrats, I mean, we did it to ourselves,” he said. “I still think you can be a centrist and run as a centrist, but it’s definitely getting harder.”

For the past two decades, Democrats have paid too much attention to winning instead of trying to get better, he continued. The party stopped concentrating as much on diversity, instead attacking its own members.

There’s far too much political infighting, Strother added, with some Democrats participating in a “circular firing squad.” But odds improve when liberals target the opposing party.

“I had a client many years ago in rural East Texas that told me, ‘Always remember: Our worst Democrat is better than the best Republican,’” he said. “And if we could get our folks back focused on that and keeping that in mind, we’d be much better off as a party.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter