The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

West Texas Waltz

By Michael King, November 22, 2002, News

U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Lubbock, announced last week that he will resign on May 31 for personal reasons. Combest, 54, was just easily re-elected for the ninth time; his seat will be filled by special election. He was the first Republican to ever be elected in Dist. 19 when he replaced Kent Hance in 1984. At the time, Hance was nominally a Democrat (he was defeated that year by then-state Sen. Lloyd Doggett in the primary for U.S. Senate). On Monday, Dist. 84 state Rep. Carl Isett, also R-Lubbock, announced he is forming an exploratory committee for the seat with Hance, now a GOP éminence grise, as its chairman. "I believe it is important," said Hance, "that West Texas unite behind our best candidate for filling the big shoes being left by Larry Combest."

Combest's big shoes, in his role as chair of the House Agriculture Committee, recently danced a deft two-step to convince President Bush to sign his election-year farm bill, which maintained massive subsidies for agribusiness and made a mockery of U.S. pretensions to "free trade." Combest also distinguished himself in 1992 with a failed attempt to open a House ethics investigation of San Antonio Democrat Henry B. Gonzalez. Initial speculation favored Lubbock state Sen. Robert Duncan to replace Combest, but Duncan quickly declined the prospect, opening the field for Isett and a handful of other GOP "formers" -- former Midland Mayor Bobby Burns, former Midland City Councilman Jose Cuevas Jr., and former Lubbock City Councilman and current Combest buddy Randy Neugebauer. Wealthy Odessa restaurateur Bob Barnes is also on short lists. With so many GOP candidates, a run-off is likely.

The only Dem considering the seat is former Lubbock Mayor David Langston, who lost to Duncan in the 1996 state Senate race -- and Langston said if he runs it would likely be as a Republican. "I realize if you switch parties, you look like an opportunist," Langston told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "but people are so turned off by the Democratic national party, all people look at is the 'D,' and you don't even get a hearing."

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