Ennis Daily News

Crowded field vies to succeed Ron Paul in US House


LAKE JACKSON (AP) — When Republican congressional hopeful Randy Weber knocks on doors in Ron Paul’s hometown and says he’d like to take “Dr. No’s” place in Washington, he offers a caveat.

“I hasten to add that Ron Paul’s not running again,” said Weber, a two-term Texas state representative. “It’s happening less now, but a lot of people look at you like, ‘why would you want to run against him? How dare you?’”

Weber, 58, is one of nine Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in Paul’s congressional district, which includes Lake Jackson, where the 76-year-old Paul delivered hundreds of babies as an obstetrician, sends out holiday cookbooks with his wife Carol, and goes jogging or biking along Oyster Creek Drive.

In 2008, when Paul ran unsuccessfully for president, he also simultaneously ran for and was easily re-elected to Congress. This year, he only made a failed bid for the White House — and hasn’t endorsed anyone in a crowded GOP field to take his House seat. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the party’s vote during Texas’ May 29 primary, a runoff will be held July 31.

“It’s sort of like being the coach after Bear Bryant,” said Jay Old, a 49-year-old Beaumont defense attorney and another Republican contender, referring to the University of Alabama legend.

While there’s no reliable polling, the top Republican choices are thought to be Weber, Old, former Texas State University System regent Michael Truncale and Felicia Harris, a city council member from Pearland.

Jeff Crosby is a Democratic consultant in Austin who grew up in Paul’s district and worked for challengers who previously tried to unseat him. He said locals like hardboiled politicians: “a lot of people down there, they’re grumpy. There’s no other way to put it.”

Old took a more nuanced view, saying district voters, “lend themselves to independent-minded candidates who are willing to take a stand for what they and their people think is right.”

“I feel comfortable with going in and being an independent voice,” he said, “but not being Ron Paul’s voice.”

Paul endorsed Weber’s two runs for the Texas House, and he hints that Paul might eventually support his congressional run too. But Weber also conceded he’d, “never fill his shoes completely because Dr. Paul’s very much beloved and he’s an icon in the area.”

Paul represented the district for 24 years but not consecutively. He retired from Congress in 1984 and ran for president as a Libertarian four years later, before winning the Republican nomination to return to the House in 1997. Also, redistricting means the new district stretches along the Gulf Coast to encompass cities like Beaumont while skirting the suburbs south of Houston.

That could be good news for the likely Democratic nominee in the general election in November, former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson. He served four terms in the House but was defeated in 2004. Lampson says about 80 percent of the geographic area in the district Paul is leaving behind now overlaps with his old district.

The area is a mix of shrimpers and fishing interests, rice farmers, oil and gas concerns, petrochemical firms and industry and shipping magnates. Many decry federal regulation of everything from oyster beds to emissions standards — but others chide Washington for failing to invest adequately in the region’s ports, or rely on subsidy-dependent fields like the aerospace industry.

Paul largely managed to keep such disparate interests happy by being personally accessible, but also refused to deviate from his Libertarian principles — so much so that he was known on Capitol Hill as “Dr. No” for so often voting against legislation he saw as government overreach.

“There’s a strong Libertarian base here, but there’s also a substantial amount of people who think the world of Dr. Paul, as I do, but don’t necessarily line up behind every issue with him,” said Lake Jackson Mayor Bob Sipple, who has endorsed Weber in the primary.

When Hurricane Ike pounded Galveston on the Gulf Coast in 2008, Paul voted against disaster relief. Both Weber and Old say conservative values resonate with district voters. They agree on restoring fiscal discipline in Washington, rolling back federal regulation and repealing President Barack Obama’s health care reform.

Both break with Paul in supporting government spending to bolster economic opportunity. Weber applauds using state funds to attract firms to Texas, while Old says Washington needs to do more to help the district’s ports stay competitive.

At Weber’s campaign headquarters, there’s a bumper sticker with a coiled rattle snake over the words, “Don’t tread on my gun rights” and five unflattering cartoons lambasting Obama and health care reform.

But at a recent reception in the waterfront community of Texas City, when a voter asked about Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to gradually overhaul Medicare, Weber replied, “honestly I have not looked at it. I’ve only heard about it.”

That didn’t sit well with the questioner, retired engineer Jim Vavogas, who said of Weber, “I heard a lot of good discussion around the big topics but no specific answers.”

Weber calls himself the “No. 1 conservative in the Texas Legislature,” though his state House district has very little overlap with the congressional district. And, amid criticisms that he didn’t live in the district, Weber recently sold his house and moved just a half-mile inside the district’s boundaries.

Weber has lent his campaign more than $100,000, with Old paying $50,000 to bolster his run. But Old has raised more money — enough to air radio and television ads. Old has also drawn some criticism, however, for contributing to Democratic campaigns in the past, and voting in a Democratic primary as recently as 2010.

Old says Jefferson County, where he lives, has historically been heavily Democratic — and supporting the party was the only way to make a difference in local races.

“I’m not a wild-haired, yellow-dog Democrat guy,” he said. “But I’ve got to support the local guys that are best for our community.”

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Posted by on May 21 2012. Filed under National news. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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