By Keith Laing - 07/12/12 05:03 PM EDT
A proposal to outlaw airport security pat-downs from the Transportation Security Administration has emerged as an issue in Texas's contentious Republican Senate primary.
Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz is accusing the state's Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst of being insufficiently conservative, citing in part the state legislature's decision last year to not approve a law that would have made it illegal for TSA agents to perform hand searches at airport security checkpoints unless there was probable cause.
Cruz said in a letter to Dewhurst this week that the failure to pass the TSA pat-down ban was one of many missteps Dewhurst has made at the helm of the Texas upper chamber.
"It is a fact that under your leadership, the TSA groping bill did not pass into law and according to at least one senator, you personally solicited the help of a Democrat senator to kill the TSA bill," Cruz wrote to Dewhurst.
"You are asking Texans for the opportunity to be their voice in the United States Senate at this time of great need," Cruz said elsewhere in the letter to Dewhurst. "But when asked by Texas voters, the very voters you are asking to trust you to be their voice in Washington, to stand on your own two feet and explain your record as Lt. Governor and your vision for the future, you refuse."
Dewhurst's campaign responded to Cruz' criticism this week by releasing a letter from members of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus defending their candidate's record on the TSA bill and other conservative priorities.
"The Senate Republicans and the Lt. Governor wanted to protect travelers from unwanted and unlawful intrusion, so Lt. Governor Dewhurst requested that Governor Perry add the TSA Anti-Groping Bill to the agenda for the Special Session," the letter said.
"The Texas Senate passed S.B. 29, the TSA Anti-Groping Bill, with enough time remaining in the Special Session for the House to take up and pass the bill," the GOP Texas state legislators continued. "The bill was a tougher version than that of the House, but ultimately died as a result of opposition on the House side."
The Texas House approved a different version of the anti-TSA legislation, which would made it a misdemeanor for TSA agents to pat down travelers who did not have probable cause for suspicion. The penalty would be a $4,000 fine and one year in jail.
If the law had been approved, it would be the first state law restricting TSA's security techniques.
TSA argued at the time that the proposed legislation was unconstitutional, saying it would have been nullified by the supremacy clause of the U.S. constitution.
The U.S. Department of Justice added that the measure would have resulted in flights to Texas being canceled.
Dewhurst and Cruz are facing off in a runoff on July 31 after neither one cleared 50 percent in a first round of voting in May. Dewhurst won 44.6 percent of the vote and Cruz took 34 percent in a field that included seven other candidates.