McNutt Aims to Reverse Byron’s Cook Legacy
A razor-thin margin of victory for the incumbent in 2016 in House District 8 all but assured that there would be a spirited rematch in 2018. That’s exactly what House District 8 voters are getting with the return candidacy of Thomas McNutt, a Corsicana businessman who took on House State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook in the last Republican Primary election two years ago.
House District 8 spans an east-west swath of Central and East Texas, containing the cities of Hillsboro to the west, Corsicana toward the center, and Palestine on the eastern end. Cook was narrowly declared the winner of the East Texas House race with 50.39 percent of the vote to McNutt’s 49.61 percent — a margin of just 225 votes.
With grassroots support for McNutt still building in this conservative district, and with the departure of several of Cook’s closest colleagues, including House Speaker Joe Straus, it is little surprise why Cook decided to not seek re-election.
As to why such a large portion of a rural district turned out to the polls against an entrenched and powerful 16-year incumbent such as Cook some perspective is in order. As State Affairs Chairman, Cook repeatedly delayed and blocked numerous pro-life, pro-religious freedom, and pro-traditional marriage bills. Cook has actively championed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender ( LGBT) legislation such as a bill that sought to remove “mother” and “father” from birth certificates (HB 537 in the 84th Legislature). In fact, a leading pro-homosexual advocacy group publicly credited Cook for his work on the birth certificate bill, stating the bill’s progress was “thanks to the support of House State Affairs Committee chair Byron Cook.”
Most memorably, however, was Cook’s and Straus’ successful blockade of the Texas Privacy Act, which would have kept boys out of girls’ restrooms, showers, and locker rooms in government buildings but allowed private businesses to make their own decisions on this issue. Not even Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority, the support of a majority of Senators and House members, and the voices of hundreds of Texas pastors was enough to nudge Cook to even hold a committee vote on what easily the most recognizable measure before the 85th Legislature.
Going back further, in 2009, Cook led a dissident band of 11 House Republicans to join 65 House Democrats in the overthrow of conservative Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick in order to elect Straus.
Though Cook sees the writing on the wall and is stepping aside, he is reportedly hoping for a Republican Primary runoff race to pick his successor, not McNutt. In addition to McNutt, Cody Harris, a Palestine rancher, and Linda Timmerman, a community college dean from rural Freestone County, are on the ballot. Cook has reportedly been supportive of both Harris and Timmerman. This three-way contest makes it more difficult that McNutt will clear the 50-percent-plus-one hurdle necessary to win the GOP Primary outright.
But McNutt is not letting the prospect of an extended campaign season slow down a very active campaign — one that by most indicators is building on the successes of the last election. McNutt has been at this second attempt for the House seat since April 2017 during the legislative session. He maintains about $300,000 in campaign funds, having spent around $100,000 so far. This eclipses Harris, who maintains a little under $60,000 in the bank having spent around $20,000 and Timmerman who reported about $42,000 having spent only $1,300.
McNutt brings to the table a business acumen, having served as vice president and director of store sales for his family’s business, the Collin Street Bakery, known for its fruitcake offerings and highway eateries. Well-respected for his resume as well as his policy stances, McNutt has now twice earned the endorsements of Texas Values Action, in addition to Texas Right to Life, Empower Texans, Young Conservatives of Texas, among others.
“The people of East Texas support strong family values and are ready to shed off the legacy of Byron Cook,” said Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values Action. “House District 8 voters can do no better than Thomas McNutt, whom we are once again excited to endorse.”