Free(PAC) Radicals

Spottings of Liberalis Republicanus, a species formerly thought to have died with Nelson Rockefeller (and perhaps in the same manner), have occurred across Texas -- and State Sen. Jeff Wentworth is one of the specimens! Or so it goes in GOP primary land, as the ultra-conservative FreePAC uses lurid direct-mail pieces to charge half a dozen "liberal Republican" incumbents with "promoting the radical homosexual agenda."

"Radicals" such as Wentworth voted for last session's hate-crimes bill, which prohibits discrimination based on "sexual preference" (a concession to Republicans who opposed "sexual orientation"). FreePAC -- whose Web site tells viewers which GOP officeholders they should pray for each day -- can't abide that, nosiree. While the GOP mainstream may not endorse such Taliban-esque ideology, they wouldn't mind getting rid of the unpredictably centrist (though far from "liberal") Wentworth, whose new district stretches from Alamo Heights to Travis Heights.

Gentle Jeff's primary opponent is state Rep. John Shields, a dependable though not rabid right-wing vote during his five House terms, who decided to move up rather than out after being redistricted. (Family money -- his father-in-law is Red McCombs -- is a terrible political asset to waste.) With help from San Antonio millionaire mullah James Leininger and other conservative donors, Shields has run TV ads and disseminated mailers touting the radical Republican agenda (for example, eliminating school property taxes entirely and instead raising the state sales tax to 14 cents or so) and, more vividly, wailing on Wentworth for his sins.

Though a well-funded primary challenge on the right from a mildly popular state rep is not good news for Jeff, his district now includes as much of Austin as it does of San Antonio, which may help defuse the conservative assault. Indeed, Wentworth signs are popping up in some of the staunchest boxes in Austin's Birkenstock Belt -- a sign that Democratic voters may cross over to the GOP primary to counter the FreePAC forces. Meanwhile, on Tuesday the San Antonio Express-News reported that Shields "disavowed" the FreePAC mailer and demanded that the group stop sending it.

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