State Rep. Jake Ellzey is defending himself against what he describes as lies about him coming from a Washington-based conservative political action committee as Election Day for a North Texas congressional runoff nears.
The Club for Growth, which describes itself as a “free-enterprise advocacy group,” has loomed large in the North Texas race as Republicans Ellzey and Susan Wright, the widow of late Ron Wright, vie for the seat. Ron Wright died in February prompting the special election and the subsequent runoff on Tuesday. Early voting started Monday and ends Friday.
The fundraising arm for The Club for Growth has endorsed Wright for Texas’ 6th Congressional District and, according to Politico, has spent $230,000 on TV ads in the months since the May 1 special election, when Wright and Ellzey advanced from a field of 23. The group has also put out a number of mailers targeting Ellzey and encouraging voters in the district to support Wright for Congress.
The Club for Growth, which was also involved in the race before the primary, did not return requests for comment.
“They are willing to do and stay anything to win because they have no moral compass,” Ellzey told the Star-Telegram.
The organization has gotten involved in other Texas races in the past, such as the 2020 Republican primary in Texas’ 13th Congressional District, when the group’s PAC backed U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson. The group endorsed U.S. Ted Cruz for president in 2016.
Mailers related to the runoff, obtained by the Star-Telegram through an Ellzey spokesperson, claim Ellzey voted for a tax increase, missed legislative votes and identify the Republican as the Democratic-backed choice. They also tout Wright’s endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
“Democrats are trying to steal the Republican runoff election by trying to get Jake Ellzey elected,” reads one mailer calling Ellzey a “Puppet for Democrats in DC.”
The group states on some mailers that Ellzey has been endorsed by Democrats. They name Stephen Daniel, a Democrat who ran for the seat in 2020 against Ron Wright.
Daniel wrote on Twitter after the special election that he would support Ellzey because Republicans were his only choice. In an interview with the Star-Telegram at the time, he stressed that the vote declaration was not an endorsement.
“(Democrats) may be the deciding factor in this election and we need to do everything we can to make sure the Trump-endorsed Susan Wright loses,” Daniel said in the tweet.
Ellzey, who served as a fighter pilot in the Navy, said people can say whatever they want to on the internet.
“I have nothing to do with Stephen Daniel,” he said. “Never met him. Never talked to him.”
Ellzey’s team has also taken issue with a mysterious text message that calls on liberals to “unite behind Democrat Stephen Daniel in voting for moderate Jake Ellzey against Trump-endorsed conservative Susan Wright!” The messages don’t contain a disclaimer of who sent them, said Ellzey spokesperson Craig Murphy.
Some mailers note that Ellzey has missed more than 100 votes while serving in the Texas House of Representatives. One labels him as a “missing politician.” Ellzey disputed the assertion, saying he’s missed 52 votes and has a 97% voting record.
The group also dings Ellzey for purportedly voting on a tax increase on motor vehicles, pointing to House Bill 2415. The bill, which passed in the House but didn’t gain traction in the Senate, would have imposed “state and local motor vehicle rental taxes on rentals conducted through marketplace rental providers,” according to a bill summary from the House Research Office. It defines a marketplace rental provider as a person who rents their car to others for use, such as through a website or app.
The bill’s author, Dallas Republican Rep. Morgan Meyer, said in committee it “closes yet another loophole in the motor vehicle rental tax by clarifying that individuals that operate a motor vehicle rental marketplace must collect and remit the tax.” He said “this tax is already due on all car rental transactions.”
Ellzey joined 95 lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — in supporting the bill on initial passage. Fifty lawmakers, including six Democrats, opposed it. Ellzey was absent for the vote on final passage. In a text, he said third reading votes come quickly, but that he was present that day and voted on the bills before and after.
“It was closing a loophole on the collection of taxes on rental cars,” Ellzey said. “Somebody is going to have to explain to me how that equates into a new tax or a tax hike. It doesn’t. By definition, it does not.”
What has Susan Wright said?
Wright, who has served a district director for two state representatives, hasn’t distanced herself from The Club for Growth. Asked generally about the organization’s support for her candidacy, including contributions to her run and negative ads about Ellzey, Wright said she’s proud to have their support.
“I’m absolutely honored that President Donald Trump, Club for Growth, numerous local elected officials, dozens of precinct chairs, and hundreds of grassroots conservatives have united the vast majority of the Republican Party behind my campaign: they know I’m the true conservative and best qualified candidate to represent TX-06 in Congress,” Wright said in a statement.
Ahead of the runoff, Wright’s campaign sent a mailer about immigration, according to the Texas Tribune. The mailer states that Ellzey is for “amnesty for illegal immigrants,” citing a 2018 interview on “The Mark Davis Show.” Ellzey was on the radio show as a candidate for Congressional District 6 having also run for the seat in 2018.
At the time, Ellzey said he supports a path to “citizenship if you serve in the military for five years.” According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, military members who have served for one year during peacetime may be eligible to apply for naturalization.
“Everybody else can apply for permanent residency, but no amnesty,” he said.
Ellzey and campaign surrogates like U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry have come to Ellzey’s defense, including in a recent video where Crenshaw seeks to debunk what he described as a “dishonest campaign.”
“There’s nothing false that the 2020 Democrat nominee for this seat, Stephen Daniel, tweeted out his endorsement of my opponent,” Wright said in a statement “There’s nothing false that my opponent, who’s missed over 100 votes, voted for a new tax on motor vehicles. There’s nothing false that my opponent supports a ‘pathway to citizenship.’ These positions and votes are all facts: they are official public record — and that’s why true conservatives like President Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz have all endorsed my campaign.”
Former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton weighs in
Joe Barton, who held the seat before Ron Wright, endorsed Ellzey during a Monday interview on the “The Mark Davis Show.” Ron Wright previously served as his chief of staff and district director.
Barton said there are “two good Republicans” in the runoff.
“I know both of them real well,” he said. “They’re both good people. They’d both be good congressmen. There wouldn’t be much difference in their voting record, but I think on the merits, you have to pick who would be the best candidate and who will best represent and has the best chance of to be an impact player. I think that’s Jake.”
Barton told Davis there’s an “unusual issue” in the race in that “Club for Growth has just run a terribly negative attack campaign against Jake.”
Davis praised Club For Growth during the show — “I’ve loved them forever,” he said — but criticized them for running “disgusting and deceptive” ads in the race.
“That’s the biggest disappointment in this race to me, that Susan has allowed that and the Club for Growth to do what they’ve done,” Barton said.
Wright’s general consultant Matt Langston alluded to the scandal that surrounded Barton’s exit from Congress when asked for comment on the former representative’s remarks. Barton didn’t seek reelection after a nude photo of him was shared online. A woman also shared private messages with sexual overtones.
“As for Joe Barton, I find it ironic he uses the term ‘biggest disappointment’ after his disgraceful exit from Congress,” Langston said.