Texas Gov. Greg Abbott endorses primary opponent of sitting state Rep. Lyle Larson

Gov. Greg Abbott gave his support Monday to another Republican challenging an incumbent member of the Texas House, this time backing Chris Fails in his race against Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio.

In a video released by Abbott's campaign, the Republican governor praised Fails, the Hollywood Park mayor, as an ally in Abbott's push to reform the property tax system next legislative session. 

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"I know that he will work with me to advance my plan to empower Texas voters to rein in skyrocketing property taxes for the people of his district," Abbott said.

Larson, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is arguably Abbott's most outspoken critic among Republicans in the lower chamber. The two have clashed over a host of issues, including ethics reform. Larson has alleged there is a "pay for play" system in the governor's office where campaign contributors are rewarded with appointments to state boards and commissions, an accusation the office has fiercely denied.

Larson responded to Abbott's endorsement by saying the governor may be "misinformed" about Fails, calling him "probably one of the most liberal mayors we've got in the state." Larson pointed out that Fails has openly supported the campaign of Nelson Wolff, the Democratic judge of Bexar County.

"None of us knew he was a Republican until he announced for this race," Larson said of Fails.

Fails has levied a similar criticism against Larson, and called him "Liberal Lyle" in a campaign announcement. 

Abbott is not the only governor whose ire Larson has drawn, particularly when it comes to proposed reforms aimed at the top office. Former Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, endorsed Fails last week.

Larson is the third House Republican Abbott has endorsed against following special session where he had vowed to keep track of which members embraced his agenda — and which ones didn't. The governor backed primary challengers to state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, in November and Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, last month. 

Both Davis and Larson were the stars of a news conference during the special session last year where they urged Abbott to add ethics reform to his 20-item agenda. The governor's office later accused them of "showboating" and said their "constituents deserve better."

Larson said he noticed a common theme among the three incumbents that Abbott is opposing: They all supported Larson’s proposed ban on “pay-for-play” appointments. The House passed the legislation, House Bill 3305, during the regular session, but it died in the Senate.

“To be honest ... as a member of a party that prides itself on reform, we need to fix this issue before we lose control of the executive branch and the Legislature,” Larson said Monday.

On Monday, Larson issued this comment to KSAT.com:

It appears the governor is misinformed. He has decided to endorse someone who supports Democrats, raises local taxes and has a history of opposing the governor's own agenda on annexation. I will continue to focus on providing results in the Texas House by decreasing taxes, securing our state's water future, supporting public education, and funding highways in Bexar County and throughout the state.

This story was originally published by Patrick Svitek for the Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

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