As the Texas Observer reported on Tuesday, an attack site has been launched against state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that derides his supposed liberalism. This despite any upcoming election battle for Nichols in the next three years. According to the Observer's Christopher Hooks, "It seems likely that the site comes from the Tim Dunn/Michael Quinn Sullivan messaging network."
On the website, RobertNicholsRecord.com, Nichols is slammed for supporting a so-called "dark money bill" last session, which would have forced political nonprofits, like Sullivan's pet projects, to disclose their donors. Nichols is also castigated for supporting a bill from last session, authored by Senate Higher Education Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, which would have clarified that regents do not have the power to fire university presidents over the objections of pertinent chancellors. That bill, of course, was filed in response to the spats between UT Regent Wallace Hall and President William Powers Jr. Sullivan, unsurprisingly, firmly took the side of the former.
The Observer article notes that Nichols is no liberal Republican, no matter what the crazies from the fringe of his party may have you believe. It points to a recent post-session analysis by Rice University Professor Mark P. Jones that ranked him as the sixth most conservative member of the upper house.
Of course, if Hooks is right, this would not be Sullivan's first attempt to defeat Republicans against whom he has a personal vendetta, under the cloak of partisan purity. He largely spearheaded the defeat of former state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, for similar reasons in last year's primary.
However, Sullivan has his limits when it comes to deposing otherwise popular but pragmatic representatives. As I noted last year in a Texan column, Sullivan previously set his sights on two House members who are vocal allies of Speaker Joe Straus: Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and Jim Effer, R-Eastland. At the time, it remained to be seen how successful his guerilla tactics would be against this vaunted incumbents.
The month after that column was published, both Cook and Keffer demolished their respective Sullivan-backed opponents in the Republican primary, going to show that, no matter how much dark money you have at your disposal, sometimes a popular incumbent is just too popular.
All signs point to Nichols indeed being so popular. As the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, he is respected by both parties for working diligently to solve our growing state's issues with gridlock. As a representative for a rural district consisting of 19 counties, he is also a fighter for his constituents.
What he is not a fighter for, though, are shady zealots. It has earned him some enemies, but I bet when the next election rolls around, it will earn him some friends, too.
Horwitz is senior associate editor.