Election 2016

Congressman Kevin Brady Battles GOP Primary Challenge From Ex-State Rep. Steve Toth

Toth is banking on an anti-establishment vote against Brady in Texas’ 8th Congressional District. Brady was elected chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee last November.

Late last year, Houston Congressman Kevin Brady rose to the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. The new power in Washington has created problems back home in Texas' 8th Congressional District, covering Houston's northern suburbs. Brady is now trying to fend off a right-wing primary challenge.

When President Obama submitted his final budget to Congress, the plan's first stop was the House Ways and Means Committee. Ways and Means must approve all legislation to fund the federal government. That makes its chairman, Kevin Brady, one of the most powerful figures in Congress.

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Amy Milstead runs an auto repair business in Spring. I spoke with her as she campaigned for Brady just outside a community center in The Woodlands.

"I just hope that people know that longevity means something here," Milstead says, "and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is a huge position for us in Washington, and that's not something that we just want to throw away."

Milstead has reason to be concerned, according to Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University's Baker Institute. "In some ways," Jones says, "his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee works against him because that makes him part of the Washington establishment, and in CD 8, in the eyes of many Republicans, being part of the Washington establishment is a bad thing, not a good thing."

Steve Toth
former state rep. Steve Toth

That's the argument Brady's chief opponent, Steve Toth, is making. The former state representative says Brady's vote for the current year's omnibus spending bill demonstrates he's not conservative enough for the district.

"Kevin Brady just signed this omnibus [spending bill]," Toth says, "which just added $850 billion, nearly $1 trillion of debt, onto the next generation."

A study from the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget finds the bill will add $830 billion to the federal debt over the next decade. But that new debt comes overwhelmingly from tax cuts, not from spending increases.

"This is a guy that says he's pro-life," Toth says, "yet he just voted for this omnibus bill which fully funds Planned Parenthood with a 5% funding increase."

A close reading of the omnibus bill shows it provided more than $286 million for family planning. But it banned the use of any of those funds for abortions.

"He sends an e-mail out saying, ‘Isn't it awful that President Obama's making us take these Syrian refugees?'" Toth says, "but then he goes and votes for the omnibus bill. The omnibus bill fully funded 172,000 Syrian refugees to come here and, on top of that, granted blanket visa waiver authority to president."

In fact, the bill provided neither visa waiver authority nor any funding for refugee resettlement in the U.S.

"That legislation, if anything, went the other direction," says Charles Foster, chairman of Houston law firm Foster LLP. He served as an immigration policy advisor to President George W. Bush, as well as President Obama. "Furthermore, I think all of that is political theater and misguided."

Misguided or not, Toth has managed to peel away some of Brady's tea party support. Brady himself recognizes he has a problem.

"The country is divided and people are frustrated." Brady says. "You know, I thought when we took back the Senate, things would change. They didn't seem to much."

Toth isn't the only candidate challenging Brady's conservative credentials. There's also Craig McMichael, Brady's primary opponent in 2014, and retired Lieutenant Colonel Andre Dean.

"You know I'm going to set up my, put up my conservative voting record against any candidate, because I know voters have rejected these three more than one time," Brady says.

But the three together could hold Brady to less than 50 percent of the vote. That would force a May runoff between the top two candidates. Most likely, says the Baker Institute's Mark Jones, those would be Brady and Toth.

"Turnout tends to plummet in the May runoff in the Republican Party," Jones says, "and the electorate tends to be more conservative and more dominated by tea party voters, which means that it would be more favorable conditions for Toth than say we'd find in March."

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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