Steve Stockman’s withdrawal from the CD 36 race to mount a quixotic challenge to Senator John Cornyn has resulted in an interesting primary dynamic for the GOP this March.
Ben Streusand and John Manlove, both of Houston, Robin Riley and Jim Engstrand, both of Seabrook, and Pat Kasprzak of Crosby filed for the seat on Monday. Riley is a former Seabrook mayor. One other Republican, Brian Babin, a dentist and former mayor of Woodville, also took advantage of the deadline extension, filing on Friday. They joined six Republicans who had filed for the seat before the original deadline: Nassau Bay City Councilman John Amdur; Doug Centilli, a longtime chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands; former Liberty County Judge Phil Fitzgerald; Lumberton lawyer Charles "Chuck" Meyer; former Seabrook City Councilman Kim Morrell; and insurance agent Dave Norman.
Yep, you read that right – we have a dozen candidates in the primary, which means that we could be facing a runoff between candidates who garner as little as 10% of the vote in March. Let’s try to group this bunch to make the race comprehensible.
CURRENT AND PAST OFFICEHOLDERS – John Amdur (city council, Nassau Bay), Brian Babin (former mayor, Woodville), Phil Fitzgerald (former county judge, Liberty County), John Manlove (former mayor, Pasadena), Kim Morrell (former city council, Seabrook), Robin Riley (former mayor, Seabrook)
GRASROOTS ACTIVISTS – Jim Engstrand, Chuck Meyer, Dave Norman
SURROGATES – Doug Centilli, Ben Streusand
NEWCOMER – Pat Kasprzak
Now I find a couple of these things interesting from a personal perspective. I share a zip code with four of these candidates, given that Engstrand, Morrell, Norman and Riley are all Seabrook residents. I share an employer with Kasprzak, who is a well-respected colleague in the district where I teach. I’ve gotten to know Chuck Meyers over the years via the internet and social media and have come to respect him during that time. As a result, I’m interested in their candidacies based upon the connections.
There are some candidates that I’m immediately unhappy to see in the race. Doug Centilli is clearly a surrogate for Congressman Kevin Brady who is being foisted upon us as the “inside the beltway” choice. Ben Streusand hosts a show on Dan Patrick’s KSEV radio and looks to be the choice of the man who wants to be the Huey Long of the Houston area. I was unimpressed with Morrell when he garnered a mere 3.4% of the vote for this seat two years ago, and nothing has changed in that time to improve my assessment of him. As for Engstrand, he carpet-bagged into the district after losing a congressional primary in Minnesota in 2010 and then took 9.4% of the vote in his bid for the CD 36 seat in the crowded GOP field in 2012. And let’s not forget that Fitzgerald’s campaign slogan is likely to be “Vote for Phil – The Feds Dropped The Charges!” My initial take on the race is that the people of CD 36 would be better served if these five were not running at all.
On the other hand, that leaves us with seven candidates who are at least worth a look, a group that includes a variety of experience and points of view. Whether you are looking for successful political leaders, grassroots activists, or even a novice candidate who brings something new to the race, you will find it in the remaining candidates.
And for the record -- I'll be keeping a close eye on this race.