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Tony Gonzales
Rep. Tony Gonzales is facing Brandon Herrera in a runoff in May. Andrew Harnik/AP

The Texas GOP Is Going After One of Its Own

The state party sent out a mailer supporting a controversial primary challenger to Rep. Tony Gonzales.

The Texas GOP is helping a challenger in his bid to unseat a Republican incumbent, going against its usual rule of staying out of local primaries.

The reasoning: The state GOP previously voted to censure the incumbent in question, Rep. Tony Gonzales, who is in a runoff against gun advocate and YouTuber Brandon Herrera.

The state party paid for a mailer to residents in Congressional District 23 urging them to back Herrera in the May 28 primary runoff. The mailer said that Herrera was the “Conservative that Texans can trust.”

The Texas GOP has been rife with infighting over the past year. Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton endorsed multiple primary challengers to state legislature incumbents over political differences. And Rep. Matt Gaetz campaigned for Herrera last month despite House GOP leadership urging members to stand with incumbents.

The Texas GOP said its direct mail effort was justified due to Gonzales’ censure.

“The mailers are the result of Tony Gonzales being censured,” said state party spokesperson James Wesolek. “It is standard practice for the party to support Republican candidates with direct mail.”

The Gonzales and Herrera campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the mailer.

The Texas GOP voted to censure Gonzales in March 2023 over two of his votes. One was his support for codifying the right to same-sex marriages. The second was backing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a modest gun control bill written by Texas Sen. John Cornyn. The bill was spurred by the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, a city in Gonzales’ district.

The censure of Gonzales passed by a vote of 57-5 by the executive committee, easily clearing the three-fifths majority needed for censure. It stated, “Congressman Tony Gonzales is discouraged from participating in the 2024 Republican primary.” It also barred the party from mentioning Gonzales’ name in campaign materials that the state party sends out, “while nothing in this Resolution shall be construed to prohibit the use of Party resources to encourage voting for Republican Party nominees or officeholders collectively.” He was only the second lawmaker to be censured by the party; the first was already retiring.

The move by the party to use resources to pick favorites in the primary has confused some Texas Republicans. A nearby county GOP chair who requested anonymity due to his role noted that Herrera is from North Carolina, “and yet he is able to use resources from the state party to help him defeat Gonzales.”

“It shows the party is not in a great state when someone [like Herrera] has the chance to beat Gonzales, and resources from Austin are helping in that bid,” the county chair added.

Herrera has joked about veteran suicide and called a German World War II-era gun the original “ghetto blaster,” among other controversial comments.

In the March 5 primary, Gonzales received 45% of the vote — short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff with the second-place finisher, Herrera, who received nearly 25% of the vote. The three other candidates in that primary, who combined took in 30% of the primary vote, have all thrown their support behind Herrera. Along with Gaetz, House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good endorsed Herrera.

Gonzales has been endorsed by the entire House GOP leadership and by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“The situation that Rep. Gonzales finds himself in is really one of the consistent stories of Texas politics over the last 10 years, whereby a reliable Republican representative casts a vote that has been turned around on them,” said Joshua Blank, the research director for the Texas Politics Project. “It really doesn’t matter how reliable that representative has been, how conservative they have been. It really only requires one potentially problematic vote.”

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.