Scott Armey, trying again for dad’s old seat in Congress, faces crowded conservative field

Michael Burgess’ retirement leaves an opening for another run by the ex-Denton County judge and son of tea party godfather and former majority leader Dick Armey.

WASHINGTON — Two decades after first trying to get to Congress, former Denton County Judge Scott Armey is making another run, filing Wednesday for the seat once held by his dad — tea party godfather and former House majority leader Dick Armey.

In 2002, Scott Armey lost the GOP runoff to Michael Burgess, an obstetrician who’d delivered more babies than votes at that point. Armey said he hadn’t thought about running again until a couple of weeks ago, when Burgess announced he’ll retire from Congress.

“I actually was visiting with some folks about this. They say, ‘Well, are you just wanting to follow in your dad’s footsteps again?’” Armey said. “I like to think, back then and of course since then, that I’ve made my own footsteps. It’s just that we tend to walk in the same direction.”

Armey nearly won the seat after his dad retired.

He drew 45% in the 2002 GOP primary against five rivals, not quite enough to avoid a runoff. Burgess took second with 22.5%, edging past the third-place finisher, Keith Self, by just 93 votes. Self went on to serve as Collin County judge and last year won a neighboring congressional seat.

Burgess, a political newcomer, won the runoff 55%-45%. The Pilot Point Republican sailed to victory that fall and 10 more times in the solidly Republican district.

Armey was just 33 at the time. Allegations of nepotism dragged him down. He’d been elected Denton County commissioner in 1992 and 1996 but had been county judge — the county’s chief executive — less than two years when he turned his sights on Congress.

“I’ve had a career. I’m successful in the private sector. I’m more mature. … I still have the passion for this work,” he said.

Candidates have until Dec. 11 to enter the March 5 primary. Six Republicans have filed for the 26th Congressional District seat so far, and local GOP leaders aren’t sure who else might enter.

“I don’t think anybody’s a front-runner,” said David Rettig, mayor of Northlake and a vice chair of the Denton County Republican Party. Armey, he said, “definitely has a legacy name that will resonate with some folks,” but others are younger and “very partisan,” which will appeal to some voters, too.

Apart from Armey, Republicans running so far include:

  • Clint Burgess, a former Tarrant County constable. He is not related to Michael Burgess.
  • Vladimir de Franceschi, who listed a Lewisville strip mall as the address on his Federal Election Commission statement of candidacy.
  • Luisa Del Rosal, former executive director of the Tower Center for Public Policy and International Affairs at Southern Methodist University. After losing a 2020 state House race to Democrat John Turner, she served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio.
  • Brandon Gill, founder of the DC Enquirer, a conservative news site, and son-in-law of conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza. Announcing his campaign last week he declared he “whole-heartedly and without reservation” supports Trump for president, and said he’s already raised $250,000. Gill has lived in Flower Mound for about a year and wasn’t registered to vote in Texas until March, state records show.
  • Burt Thakur, a Navy veteran, former Jeopardy! champion and engineer who pitches himself as a “disrupter” and an America First Republican. He filed for Self’s seat last spring, switching districts three days after Burgess’s announcement.

It’s one of three open congressional seats in North Texas, rare prizes that always set off a scramble. In the 12th Congressional District, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, is retiring after 14 terms. And 32nd District Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, is running for U.S. Senate.

Republicans have a solid lock on the 26th District seat that Armey is angling for. The district covers 75% of the Denton County populace. About 1 in 10 district residents live in Cooke and Wise counties.

The district overlaps with state Senate District 12, which is Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson’s old seat. Neither she nor successor Sen. Tan Parker have indicated interest in a congressional run.

“Scott’s a fantastic guy. He’s served the community his whole life,” said David Wylie, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee from Denton County. “He’s right-minded, and he’d be a real good candidate.”

U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey  with his son Scott Armey, a Denton County...
U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey with his son Scott Armey, a Denton County commissioner, inside the Denton County Courthouse on June 1, 1999.(Allison V. Smith / 129268)

And while Armey isn’t running on his dad’s name, Wylie said, it’s a strong brand: “Dick Armey wasn’t just a flash in the pan. He ran Congress. The Contract with America was far-reaching — gave birth to the tea party. … He’s legendary.”

Dick Armey, now 83 and largely out of the public eye, was an architect of the “Republican revolution” — the GOP takeover of the House in 1994 after 40 years out of power.

Elected a decade earlier, he ended up serving nine terms, the last four as majority leader. The Contract with America he crafted with Newt Gingrich, who became speaker, promised welfare reform, tax cuts and smaller government.

Scott Armey’s goals are similar. He says he’d devote his time in Congress to tackling the $34 trillion national debt by pushing for “responsible spending,” lower taxes and smaller government.

“I’m conservative, economically and socially conservative. That aligns very closely with the tea party when it came along, and it aligns well with President Trump and the Republicans of today,” he said.

Gill says the 2020 election was “stolen,” an assertion no state or federal court has agreed with.

Armey said he would have voted to certify the 2020 election due to lack of evidence of fraud.

“I don’t know that they had a choice. The states did their due diligence” and submitted certified slates of electors to Congress, he said. But he said he understands why people questioned the outcome.

“Governing moves forward. … That one is behind us,” he said.

Armey calls his defeat 21 years ago a blessing of sorts.

“God put me on a different path,” he said. “There were very few soccer games or softball games or school concerts that I missed. … Our son was three, and our girls weren’t even born yet. … So many politicians say they’re retiring to go spend time with family and they’re 85 years old. I was able to do that in my 30s and 40s.”

He called Burgess “a solid voice for this district.”

Armey resigned as county judge after his defeat in 2002 to take a presidential appointment as regional administrator of the General Services Administration, overseeing nearly 1,400 employees and a $500 million budget in five states.

The GSA is the federal government’s biggest buyer of supplies and services.

He held the post for seven years, until the end of the George W. Bush administration, and said it gave him insight into ways to streamline federal agencies.

Since then he’s worked as a private wealth adviser.

He said he would push for a federal hiring freeze and look at eliminating non-essential programs or even entire agencies; he didn’t specify which.

“There are plenty of federal employees,” he said.

The Dallas Morning News, Todd Gilman, November 30, 2023

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