Texas GOP censures U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales over party-splitting votes in Congress

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, on Aug. 24, 2022. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal For The Texas Tribune, Kaylee Greenlee Beal For The Texas Tribune)

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The Republican Party of Texas voted Saturday to censure U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, over his recent votes that split with the party.

The State Republican Executive Committee passed the censure resolution 57-5, with one member abstaining. It needed a three-fifths majority to pass.

The move allows the party, which is otherwise required to remain neutral in intraparty contests, to set aside that rule for Gonzales’ next primary.

The last — and only — time the state party censured one of its own like this was in 2018, when the offender was then-state House Speaker Joe Straus. He was also a moderate from San Antonio.

Gonzales did not appear at the SREC meeting but addressed the issue after an unrelated news conference Thursday in San Antonio. He specifically defended his vote for the bipartisan gun law that passed last year after the Uvalde school shooting in his district. He said that if the vote were held again today, “I would vote twice on it if I could.”

“The reality is I’ve taken almost 1,400 votes, and the bulk of those have been with the Republican Party,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales’ campaign responded to the censure in a statement that dinged the state party.

“Today, like every day, Congressman Tony Gonzales went to work on behalf of the people of TX-23. He talked to veterans, visited with Border Patrol agents, and met constituents in a county he flipped from blue to red. The Republican Party of Texas would be wise to follow his lead and do some actual work,” campaign spokesperson Evan Albertson said.

There was no public debate over the censure at the SREC’s quarterly meeting Saturday in Austin. The committee went into executive session for about an hour before returning and immediately voting on the resolution.

The SREC is the 64-member governing body of the state party and includes some of its most involved activists, giving it a staunchly conservative makeup.

While the SREC did not publicly debate the censure, the Texas GOP chairman, Matt Rinaldi, defended it on Twitter afterward. He noted that even one of Gonzales' GOP successors in the seat who nows serves on the SREC — Francisco "Quico" Canseco — supported the censure.

On Monday — two days after the censure — received a primary challenger in Julie Clark, chairwoman of the Medina County GOP. The censure resolution originated in Medina County and was seconded by over a dozen other county parties in the district.

Clark's announcement video compared Gonzales to other alleged RINOs — Republicans in Name Only — like former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and current U.S. Sen Mitt Romney of Utah. The video features a narrator with an Australian accent talking about the Republicans as if they are the animal the rhino.

"Crickey, this bloke is a real RINO!" the narrator says of Gonzales.

After the censure, Gonzales got backup from the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans.

"Congressman Gonzales is a valued member of the House majority, and we look forward to supporting his re-election," NRCC spokesperson Delanie Bomar said in a statement.

The original censure resolution cited Gonzales' support for the bipartisan gun law that passed last year, as well as his vote for a bill codifying protections for same-sex marriage. The resolution also pointed to his vote against the House rules package in January and his opposition to a border security bill being pushed by fellow Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Austin.

Gonzales was one of only 14 Republicans to vote for the gun law — and the only one from Texas. He was the only GOP vote against the rules package, and he has stood alone among Texas Republicans in forcefully criticizing Roy’s bill, saying it would effectively end asylum. Roy has denied that.

Gonzales was first elected in 2020 when the 23rd District was a national battleground. But it got redder after redistricting, falling off the list of toss-up races.

Correction, March 4, 2023 at 7:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of support needed to approve the censure. Three-fifths support was needed, not a simple majority.

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