Dave McNeely

Dave McNeely

As Texas ramps up for the high-gear political races in 2022, a number of actual and potential candidates are pawing the ground with varying degrees of interest and appeal.

Some are already in, some are contemplating running and some are just being encouraged to run.

Word is that two Republican San Antonio politicians — former Texas House speaker Joe Straus and state Rep. Lyle Larson — are being encouraged to run for governor and lieutenant governor as independents or in a new moderate party. Both are fiscal conservatives and social moderates.

Straus, 61, is reportedly considering a run for governor. He followed two terms as a House member, from 2005 to 2009, by serving five terms as House speaker, from 2009 until his retirement in 2019.

Larson, 62, is considering a run for lieutenant governor. After two terms on the San Antonio City Council, and more than a decade as a Bexar County commissioner, Larson was elected to the House in 2010 and has served since.

While Larson is still in the House, Straus, after retiring as speaker in 2019, announced forming a group called “Texas Forever Forward,” with himself as chairman and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson as treasurer.

Straus said it would be active writing and speaking on political issues and in supporting officeholders and candidates who understand the need for maximum financial support for quality education, health care and equal opportunity. Straus kicked off the group’s finances in 2019 with $2.5 million from leftover campaign funds from his time as House speaker.

Whether either Straus or Larson will link up with a new moderate party called SAM — for Saving America Movement — isn’t clear yet.

The party was established in New York in 2017 as part of a response for people who had considered themselves Republicans but were aghast at Donald Trump’s haphazard ideas and actions as president.

Among SAM’s leaders is David Jolly of Florida, who served as a Republican Congressman, but left the GOP after his loss to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democrat. Jolly, a frequent guest on MSNBC, became SAM’s executive chairman in May 2020.

For governor, opponents in the GOP primary against Gov. Greg Abbott so far are former GOP state chairman Allen West and former Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines. On the Democratic side, there so far are no settled candidates, though a fallback might be former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s been busy with his Powered by People organization, fighting voting law changes during what Democrats call Abbott’s “Voter Suppression Special Session.”

Some wish former Austin mayor and Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson might run for governor. Watson recently resigned as the founding dean of the new Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston after a frustrating year that directly coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Watson, considered a knowledgeable and competent leader, said he’s been impressed by the number of people encouraging him to run for mayor of Austin, a job he held from 1997 to 2001, before election to the state senate in 2006.

The current mayor, Steve Adler, is term-limited when his term expires in January 2023. The mayoral election is Nov. 8, 2022 — the same day as Texas’ statewide elections.

Back to lieutenant governor: So far there is no apparent challenger to Republican incumbent Dan Patrick in the GOP primary. In the Democratic primary, Mike Collier, who lost to Patrick in 2018, has been campaigning steadily all over the state for months. We’ll have a longer look at that race in coming weeks.

The embattled Republican incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton has a long-standing securities fraud charge pending since his first year as AG in 2015 for alleged felonies committed before he took office.

Also, in 2020, seven top attorneys in his office wrote a letter to federal and state authorities reporting that Paxton had done questionable favors for a campaign contributor. He is being investigated by the FBI.

He’s already got challengers in the GOP primary in Land Commissioner George P. Bush and recently retired Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.

Democrats interested include former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, grandson of Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski, and could include Justin Nelson, who lost to Paxton in 2018.

North Texas civil rights attorney Lee Merritt has said he is running but hasn’t said in what party, if any.

More on down-ballot statewide races later.

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— Dave McNeely is an Austin-based columnist who covers Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.