Big bucks spent in political races don’t always win the day. Just ask Carlos Vasquez. The current school board member recently ran in the Democratic primary for a Texas House seat against 16-year incumbent Lon Burnam — and lost despite almost $100,000 that was pumped into Vasquez’ coffers by a political action committee called Texans for Lawsuit Reform. The tort reform group was founded by five wealthy real estate developers and lawyers from Houston in 1995. In the last three weeks of the campaign, TLR’s contributions to Vasquez more than doubled his total contributions up to that time, from $76,000 to $175,000. The money was the largest single contribution to the Vasquez campaign, coming from a group not normally friendly to Democrats. The money was used for seven last-minute attack ads against Burnam, who won by a razor-thin margin. Because Burnam has no Republican opponent, the win means he will again represent District 90.
Explaining the group’s support for Vasquez, a TLR spokesperson wrote in an e-mail: “Texans for Lawsuit Reform … supports independent-thinking candidates who are committed to business growth in Texas and have the courage to stand up to the job-killing agenda of Texas trial lawyers.”
Asked if he supported the TLR agenda, Vasquez did not respond. Instead, he wrote in an e-mail that TLR “supports many Democrats. … Lon has received much more money from the trial lawyers.”
Burnam received $17,000 from the Texas Trial Lawyers PAC during this latest campaign, according to his financial reports to date. “Carlos didn’t campaign for or against tort reform, he focused on education. … The money wasn’t for him, it was to defeat me,” said Burnam. His liberal agenda, including opposing tort reform and supporting tighter environmental regulations on polluting businesses, has made him a target of conservative groups like TLR. “Carlos was just an unwitting tool of these folks,” he said.
Burnam said Harold Simmons, the Dallas billionaire developer who has been licensed to open a low-level nuclear waste dump in West Texas over the long and loud objections of Burnam, donated $250,000 to TLR just days before the group gave almost $100,000 to Vasquez. “That was no coincidence,” the lawmaker said.
When asked if he will seek the House seat again, Vasquez told Static he has no plans to do so. However, on election night he told the Dallas Voice that he will run again in two years.